By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu apologized for the frustration caused by a federal website to book second appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine at his news conference on Thursday and promised to fix it with a New Hampshire solution.
The information came as the state saw a continued and improved downward trend in the number of infections and hospitalizations.
But with the pressure on to vaccinate the state faster against a virus that has already killed 1,085 residents and variants of the virus that are even more contagious found in other states, Sununu said he “owned” the frustration of people unable to get an appointment for the second shot through the federal CDC VAMS website within the manufacturer’s time frame.
He said he is working on a state registration system to expedite the process.
Perry Plummer, who is heading up the vaccine distribution, said currently about 4,000 of the original 25,000 people are waiting on resolutions on getting their second shots closer to the manufacturer’s recommendation.
Sununu said the state is rebooking second COVID-19 vaccine appointments and assured people they would would get their second vaccine appointment rebooked within a week of the manufacturer’s recommended time frame.
Lori Shibinette, the commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, also reported a positive trend at the long-term care facilities with the closure of eight outbreaks in the past week and only two new outbreaks, including the Sullivan County House of Correction and Applewood Rehabilitation Center.
Sununu said the biggest issue this week has people who were vaccinated but could not schedule a second vaccine within the manufacturer’s time frame and the system that required them to delete their second appointment, which he said he “hated.”
“I’ve said it three times, we own this problem. The state absolutely owns this problem and we are fixing this problem. We are walking away from the federal system. We put our faith in it. It didn’t work out,” Sununu said.
The state is building its own online registration system, he said.
“We know this has created a lot of anxiety. This has not been a disaster. It would have been a disaster if people weren’t getting their shots,” Sununu said.
In the future VAMS will only be involved in keeping track of who has had the vaccine and the state will take on making appointments.
Sununu also noted that the state was the last to create a statewide registry and that played into the decision for choosing VAMS. About 10 other states also chose to use CDC’s federal site for appointments and they are all having similar problems with complaints, he said.
Adding to the difficulty has been wait times on the state’s telephone 2-1-1 system, Sununu noted.
There are between 200 to 400 people taking take calls on 2-1-1 from thousands, he said, and each call can take five or 10 minutes.
He said he knew it was a problem Monday night.
“If you have been pushed out go back into that system over the next couple days and if you don’t see a space today go back tomorrow,” Sununu said.