The states of New Hampshire and Maine are furiously preparing to receive their first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines within the next two weeks, just as a growing wave of new COVID-19 positive cases is cresting across both states.
Details, numbers and logistics are quickly becoming available, allowing both states to begin implementing distribution plans they, as all states, were required to submit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Now the first doses could be administered in December if the FDA approvals of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are finalized on the anticipated schedule. There may be more vaccines approved later.
This story is being provided for free online viewing as a public service. Here’s a look at what to expect in New Hampshire and Maine.
How many vaccine doses will be in the first shipments?
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said in his weekly COVID-19 press conference Thursday the state does not know the exact number of doses it will receive in the first shipment, but expects it will receive 10,000 to 15,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the third week of December and 15,000 to 24,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine a week later, in the fourth week of this month.
Supplies will be limited at first as companies race to produce the vaccines, though production began well ahead of the hoped-for FDA approvals.
Pfizer’s vaccine requires two doses within 28 days. Moderna’s vaccine is also two doses, about four weeks apart.
Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in his Friday briefing the state had just placed its order for 12,675 doses. He explained by “order” he meant that the state has told the CDC and the federal vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, “where we would like our first shipments to go.”
He said the doses will be shipped to five hospitals and the Maine CDC warehouse.
Who will get the COVID vaccine first in New Hampshire?
Beth Daly, chief of the New Hampshire health department’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, has said the first phase will include high-risk health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff and first responders.
Daly estimated there are about 100,000 people who need to be vaccinated in this first phase. This will take a few months. Distribution to the general public could begin in the spring, she said.
“It will take us many weeks to vaccinate everyone,” Daly said. “We are not going to get to the general population until March or April.
Each phase will begin in geographic areas with the highest COVID-19 disease case count.
“Ensuring equitable access … is central to NH’s vaccine planning efforts,” the state’s draft plan states. “The goal is to vaccinate an entire phase of the population throughout the state, prior to proceeding with vaccination of the next phase.”
Who will get the COVID vaccine first in Maine?
Front-line health care workers would be vaccinated first and “soon nursing homes – vulnerable people and those who provide care to them in partnership with commercial pharmacies,” Shah said Friday. “This is just the first week’s allocation. This is week one of many, many weeks.”
Maine officials conducted a planning survey of hospital systems to determine who should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination in its first phase to support the critical medical infrastructure. Preliminary results from the survey identified about 19,900 high-risk health care personnel – that’s about 53% of the state’s 37,700 health care personnel who work in a hospital setting – who should be prioritized, according to the state’s interim draft vaccination plan. They include about 2,000 intensive care unit workers, 2,300 emergency department workers and 15,600 other high-risk employees.
Maine CDC has offered and will continue to offer guidance to the state’s health care provider organizations to identify the highest-priority personnel who should be among the first to be vaccinated, Shah said.
How the COVID vaccine will be rolled out in Maine
Shah said his team has been working with stakeholders throughout Maine to prepare for a prompt rollout that will include pharmacies. The Trump administration announced partnerships with CVS and Walgreens.
“We are shoring up our logistics,” Shah said. “Our goal is to be able to vaccinate both with velocity and equity as soon as the vaccine is released.”
Shah has said state officials have been working closely with health systems on a distribution plan.
“It’s all well and good to have the vaccine. It’s all well and good to ship it to a hospital. But we’ve got to make sure we’re working with them so they’ve got the requisite number of vaccinators at each of their sites to have high throughput,” Shah said.
Shah said, “We’re also thinking about ways that we can use others in the community who are trusted and known to community members to stand up vaccination sites, like EMS clinicians, for example, and working with local fire departments, volunteer fire and rescue agencies across the state to have those be sites of vaccination, as well.”
He said that likely won’t come until “late spring, early summer.”
How the COVID vaccine will be rolled out in New Hampshire
In New Hampshire, significant planning has been carried out around recruiting and enrolling COVID-19 vaccination providers, including the specific types of settings the vaccine is expected to be distributed in for each phase of the initiative.
The state will use its 13 Regional Public Health Networks and the state’s two local health departments, in the cities of Nashua and Manchester, establishing a fixed vaccination site in each of the 13 regions and the capability for one mobile site within each region, according to the state’s draft plan. Additional efforts to expand capacity will use Emergency Medical Services, the N.H. National Guard, and professional medical, nursing, and pharmacy licensing boards and schools to provide vaccinators as well as recruiting volunteers to train, the plan says.
Local health departments and the networks will fill in the gaps for vulnerable areas of the population that will have difficulty accessing vaccine, according to the plan, and will use partnerships with hospital networks to vaccinate their workforce as well as pharmacists, local health departments, community health centers and the regional networks.
Plans are underway to incorporate relevant COVID-19 vaccine data into the state’s existing New Hampshire COVID-19 dashboard to provide vaccine-specific information and resources to the general public and state and local officials.
Who’s going to pay for the vaccinations?
The federal government has a “bigger role to play here,” when it comes to the necessary short-term funding and staff needed to distribute the vaccine, Shah said.
“Additional funding is needed. What is at stake here and the reason we need the funding is really to make sure we can vaccinate both with velocity as well as to make sure we can vaccinate equitably,” he said.
Maine officials have identified six sites across the state where vaccine supplies will be pre-positioned regardless of whether any additional funding is made available, Shah said.
Since some, but not all, of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates require ultra-cold transportation and storage infrastructure, the cost of distribution across Maine will depend mostly on which vaccine secures FDA approval and meets the needs of the populations Maine serves, Shah said.
New Hampshire has used federal supplemental funding to purchase 13 refrigerators and 14 freezers. Further funding would be leveraged to assist in purchasing additional needed equipment. Prioritization of this equipment will be based off geographic and population size. Additional state capacity includes five refrigerators and one freezer.
“We are working to solidify plans,” Daly said last month. “But we are ready to accept the first doses of vaccine when they are made available to us.”