As North Country residents older than 65 in Phase 1b receive their COVID-19 vaccinations, another group is next in line to soon get theirs - teachers and school staff.
If all goes well, the first of their two shots could happen in March.
Littleton Regional Healthcare, partnering with Littleton Fire and Rescue, is advancing a plan that can activate as soon as the state says go.
“We had a meeting with the fire department around the different issues of vaccines for the school community and that seems like that’s potentially happening this month,” Littleton School District SAU 84 Superintendent William Hart said to the Littleton School Board this week. “We’re trying to make that happen as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Through a drive-up clinic outside of LRH, the vaccines will be administered for teachers, faculty, and school staff in Phase 2a, but not for students who are in a later vaccination phase.
LFR will soon be reaching out to teachers and helping them through the sign-up process.
Like the two mass vaccinations that took place at LRH this past weekend and in late January, it will be a massive effort that will include not just teachers and staff from SAU 84, but educators and staff from other area school districts.
“We are assisting LRH at their drive-through vaccination site, like we’ve been assisting them ever since the National Guard site shut down,” LFR Capt. Chad Miller said Thursday. “Our role is to help get school staff into VAMS [the Vaccine Administration Management System] and to assist LRH with the actual administration.”
While LRH is the lead, Miller will be in a communications role with the schools.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said he wants all teachers vaccinated by the end of March.
Ideally, the goal is to have teachers in the North Country vaccinated by that time, if possible, or by early to mid-April, said Koren Superchi, vice-president of LRH’s patient care services, who is coordinating the drive-up vaccinations at LRH.
“The 2a group hasn’t been opened yet by the state and we are waiting for that to happen and for what vaccine will be allocated to complete that mission,” said Miller. “There are three now.”
The new Johnson and Johnson vaccine rolled out this week in New Hampshire will join the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that began New Hampshire’s vaccinations in late December with those residents in the first phase.
In addition to teachers at SAU 84, the LRH vaccination drive will include teachers and staff at White Mountains School District SAU 35, which has schools in Bethlehem, Lisbon, and Landaff; the Monroe Consolidated School District SAU 77; the private White Mountain School in Bethlehem; and some teachers and staff from White Mountains Regional School District SAU 36, which has schools in Whitefield and Lancaster, the Northumberland-Stark-Stratford SAU 58, both of which have a good number of teachers who live in the Littleton area.
In the mix, too, as part of 2a are bus drivers and employees of the smaller licensed childcare centers in the region, said Miller.
“It’s really a big regional effort and we are looking at a widespread area,” he said. “We’ll be reaching out to them over the weekend as we finish collecting information … As soon as the state gives us the okay and the vaccine, we’ll have a plan in place and will fire it up the next day.”
Bethlehem Fire Chief Jack Anderson is involved in coordinating vaccinations for SAU 35 teachers and staff.
Edward Duffy, chief medical officer for LRH, will be holding a remote meeting with teachers on Zoom to provide information and updates about the three vaccines and answer any questions.
“It may help people who are on the fence, saying, ‘Do I want to get vaccinated or not,’” said Superchi. “We’ll extend this offer to whichever school districts want to participate, and we’ll record it so people can still have the benefit of that information later.”
LRH doesn’t yet know the total number of area teachers, school staff and faculty and childcare workers who will be vaccinated, but Superchi estimates it’s in the vicinity of 500 to 800 people.
“We are working with Littleton Fire Rescue and the Public Health Network on this initiative and have asked area schools, specifically 84 and 35, to collect numbers because we need to submit to the state how many vaccines are needed,” she said.
LRH expects to have those numbers by today.
Although the state had initially projected an April 1 start date for Phase 2a, things changed quickly and for the better, and that first shot for 2a has now been moved up to some time in March, said Superchi.
“We talked about how to make the process as smooth as possible for the next phase,” she said. “The preference for a lot of the schools is to be able to do doses on a Friday afternoon or Saturday, so if teachers have any side effects they are home on the weekend so they don’t have to miss school. They don’t want to miss any more face-to-face time with their students. We will work with them and accommodate them with that schedule. If enough vaccine is allocated, we can do a big vaccination clinic like the other weekends.”
On Sunday, after receiving last-minute calls from the state asking LRH representatives if they can accept some 1,000 vaccine doses about to expire, LRH, with some vaccines of their own, said yes and inoculated nearly 1,200 people.
After a similar call from the state in late January, the hospital vaccinated 425.
As for the 2a vaccinations, LRH doesn’t yet know which vaccine will be available.
The general rule is that one doesn’t get to have a choice unless there is a medical reason for having one over another, said Superchi.
The hospital will pick a weekend that is best for the teachers, she said.
As for side effects, they are not as much of an issue after the first shot because the people who have side effects, a very small percentage, tend to have them after the second dose, said Superchi.
“We’re getting everything together so as soon as we get the green light, we’ll be able to go,” she said. “We’ve proven that with very little notice we can have a successful mass clinic.”