As coronavirus vaccinations roll out this week for Tier 1b residents across the state, some in the North Country are expressing frustrations and confusion about the appointment process so far.
State officials on Tuesday said they were aware of sudden appointment cancellations, which occurred statewide, but predominantly in the North Country and owing to a website glitch.
Last week, vaccine-eligible local residents in Tier 1b became aware they could schedule an appointment to receive their vaccine.
They did just that.
Within days, though, they were told those appointments were canceled because of a scheduling error.
“I was angry,” Bethlehem resident Cheryl Jensen said of the appointments for her and her husband, Chris, at Littleton Regional Healthcare. “The email came out on Friday and we received the information and set up an appointment for Feb. 1 at LRH. Yesterday, I get this email that said your appointment’s canceled.”
The email provided a link, which itself was confusing, she said.
Jensen said she called LRH and spoke with a representative who said the appointments were canceled because the hospital hasn’t yet vaccinated all of its own staff members, and the appointment cancellations affected 1,500 1b residents.
“It’s frustrating because we jumped on this right away,” she said. “I know a lot of other people signed up.”
One was Bob DiMatties, of Monroe, who expressed similar frustrations.
“My wife called up to get appointments for her and I the first thing on Friday morning, because we are both over 65 and I have medical conditions,” he said. “She got an email back saying we had appointments confirmed for Cottage Hospital.”
Soon, they learned those appointments were canceled because Cottage Hospital, in Woodsville, was still only vaccinating employees, he said.
They set up appointments at LRH for early February, only to soon learn that those bookings, too, were canceled for the same reason, said DiMatties.
“Now, we have one set up at Feb. 11 at Weeks Medical Center [in Lancaster],” he said.
Both DiMatties and Jensen said they hope their appointments will still proceed as scheduled.
“The big mass confusion is do we or do we not have one,” said DiMatties.
On Tuesday, LRH spokesperson Gail Clark said the issue has been resolved.
“It was really a snafu on the part of the state,” she said. “The state is doing the best they can. They are coordinating 1.38 million vaccinations with many hospitals. People can reschedule. We are starting Friday to vaccinate the patients of LRH.”
State officials, during the governor’s press conference on Tuesday afternoon, said they are aware of the cancellations in the North Country.
“We do know the situation happened, more on the federal aspect of the system in terms of making sure that sites that could be open, what we call open PODs [points of distribution], are truly open PODs,” said Gov. Chris Sununu.
Perry Plummer, the former assistant commissioner of the state Department of Safety who is overseeing the state’s vaccine distribution, said the hospital in Littleton was the one that had the most patients with suddenly canceled appointments.
“We had a scattering of patients who were able to book into [hospital] employee-only sites and … they don’t have vaccines for those people who are not their employees,” he said. “What happened is on the federal site they showed up and they weren’t able to be hidden and we didn’t know they were there because it’s a federal site. They went in and they booked the appointment. Obviously, that creates a hardship because you go in and you think you have an appointment at a certain location.”
When the state discovered the glitch, the hospitals were called and asked to close that registration site, he said.
“When they closed the site, it automatically canceled the patients, which is unfortunate,” said Plummer. “We reached out last night, we got those lists from the hospitals, and reached out to all those patients and said we will reschedule that appointment. A good percentage were able to go right back in and reschedule. A small percentage were not able to, or they were at the end of the line, so we’re calling them back right now to try to work with them to get them back in line where they would have been to try to make it right. We’re working through that process right now.”
The state is working with the hospitals that experienced the abrupt cancellations to get those lists and get people notified and try to get them back in line and contact them in the next 24 to 48 hours, he said.
Jensen said the state on Tuesday presented all of the information that should have been given to people at last week’s press conference, and by doing so then, it would have prevented needless confusion.
“We followed the link we were sent by the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control],” said Nancy Martland, of Sugar Hill, who scheduled an appointment for herself and her husband, Carl. “The correct sites were not offered the first time around. Any implication that this was a mistake made by the public is false. The second time I made an appointment, the public sites were correctly listed on the CDC site.”
And not everyone was notified of their canceled appointments, she said.
Vaccine Tiers And Progress
In an update to residents and patients on Tuesday morning, LRH representatives thanked everyone for their patience and understanding as they establish their vaccination clinic.
“We are working very closely with the state of New Hampshire to provide vaccines to those eligible in Phase 1B,” they said.
What is being LRH’s Public Clinic will open Friday by appointment only. Those seeking vaccines must pre-schedule an appointment in advance (at sonh-community.force.com/providers/s/).
The public clinic is behind the LRH campus at the hospital’s drive-up site.
A valid New Hampshire photo identification for each person receiving a vaccine is required.
According to the state vaccination allocation plan summary as of Jan. 16, vaccinations for Phase 1a, which includes long-term care home residents and staff members, high-risk health care workers, and first responders, are expected to last through March.
Also scheduled to last through March is Phase 1b, which includes those 65 and older, those with two or more medical conditions that put them at severe risk, corrections officers, and adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities
Currently scheduled from March through May will be Phase 2a, which includes childcare workers, K-12 teachers, and school staff.
Also running from March through May is Phase 2b, which includes those ages 50 to 64.
Beginning in May and beyond will be Phase 3a, which includes vulnerable residents age 50 and younger at moderate health risk because of medical conditions and vulnerability.
Phase 3b is also scheduled to begin in May or beyond and will include everyone else who hasn’t been vaccinated.
Estimated time frames depend on vaccine doses allocated to the state from the federal government as well as vaccine uptake, said state officials.
The initial goal set by the state was to have all Tier 1 residents vaccinated by the end of January.
“We’re not quite there, but are getting close,” Clark said of the vaccinations for all LRH staff members.
North Country Healthcare
Also getting close are the hospitals under North Country Healthcare, which includes Weeks Medical Center, Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook, and Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin.
“In terms of Phase 1A, we are nearly complete across the system in terms of vaccinating our healthcare employees who have requested the vaccine,” NCH spokesman James Patry said Tuesday.
The Phase 1B clinics of NCH will begin this week.
“We are trying to stagger days of the week for the convenience of the public,” said Patry.
Locations at UCVH are at the drive-through structure behind the hospital and locations for Weeks are at the physician’s office at 8 Clover Lane in Whitefield at the Weeks hospital in Lancaster.
Those wanting to register can do so at vaccines.nh.gov.
“In terms of appointment cancellations, I have heard that some individuals who didn’t qualify under Phase 1B were notified that they could register at this time,” said Patry. “I don’t know if any such individuals registered and then had their appointments canceled, as the state, via vaccines.nh.gov, is handling the registration. No NCH facility actually takes appointment requests or fulfills them.”
State’s COVID-19 Response
“Today is a big day,” Sununu said, noting the rollout of the Tier 1b vaccines.
More than 200,000 people in 1b are now able to register for vaccines, and most already have, he said.
The state does anticipate an increase in the number of vaccines in the coming weeks, with about a 15 to 16-percent increase in availability, said Sununu.
“We are anticipating that and will build that capacity into our system,” he said. “We have the ability to open up more sites and can do that very easily.”
In phases 1a and 1b are about 400,000 New Hampshire residents, the most at risk, and the goal is to have sufficient vaccination for that population by mid-May, after which the state could have more flexibility as it rolls vaccines to those at less risk, said Sununu.
Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist noted what he said are recent positive trends.
The 5,430 confirmed active cases on Tuesday are below the 6,000 last week, the test positive rate has been trending downward the last seven days, hospitalizations are down, and deaths are down, said Chan.
“The data continues to show promising trends, but overall community transmission appears to be high statewide,” he said.
Wearing masks and keeping social distance remains critical, he said.
Despite high rates of community transmission, K-12 schools have been able to operate safely with full classroom learning, and there has been very limited transmission in structured school settings, and students in K-12 are at low risk for spreading the virus, said Chan.
“We’ve had clusters in schools, but they have been small and limited and there were no large outbreaks of COVID-19 in school settings,” he said.