Last week, federal health officials gave final approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 5 to 11 year-olds — the first and only vaccine for the viral disease to be approved for this age group.
And between area hospitals, pharmacies and pop-up clinics, Monadnock Region residents have a lot of options for getting their kids the two-dose shot.
Here’s a rundown of the vaccine’s efficacy among this age group and where, locally, children can get inoculated:
The Pfizer vaccine was found to be about 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in 5- to 11 year-olds, according to the Food and Drug Administration. No severe cases of the viral disease were found in those vaccinated, the release notes.
The vaccine’s safety has been studied in about 3,000 children, and no serious side effects have been detected in the ongoing study, according to the FDA. Side effects, such as a sore arm and fatigue, were generally mild, and most symptoms went away within a few days, the agency says.
In addition to using a smaller needle for kids 5 to 11, the dosage is one-third of that given to adults.
“The FDA is committed to making decisions that are guided by science that the public and healthcare community can trust,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a news release on the approval. “ ... We hope this information helps build confidence of parents who are deciding whether to have their children vaccinated.”
In Keene, Cheshire Medical Center will be offering drive-thru clinics for its pediatric patients, ages 5 to 11, on Nov. 13, Nov. 20, Dec. 4 and Dec. 11.
The appointment-only clinics will be held on the hospital’s Court Street campus, according to hospital spokeswoman Heather Atwell. Appointments can be scheduled on the hospital’s online patient portal, myDH. Parents can also call their children’s pediatrician to schedule an appointment.
Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough is also hosting two clinics in coming weeks exclusively for its pediatric patients, according to spokesman Phil McFarland. The clinics will be held Dec. 4 and Jan. 8 for kids in the latest approved age group at the hospital on Old Street Road.
Those interested need to call their primary-care provider to schedule an appointment, McFarland said. Parental consent is required for any patients between 5 and 17 years old, he added, and birth certificates are needed for anyone without a photo ID.
The hospital is also hosting two free clinics on Nov. 20 and Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the public at New Ipswich Family Medicine on Turnpike Road. There is no age limitation with these clinics, according to McFarland.
In addition to these clinics, the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network — which has overseen the region’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts — is working to schedule school-based clinics to get more shots in arms, but none were set up as of Tuesday, Atwell said. Schools interested in having a clinic can contact Jane Parayil at email@example.com.
Otherwise, Monadnock Region residents can visit vaccines.nh.gov to find other vaccine locations, such as area pharmacies.
New Hampshire’s top infectious-disease specialists are urging the public not to give up on COVID-19 mitigation.
Children ages 5 to 11 are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. State epidemiologists Dr. Ben Chan and Dr. Elizabeth Talbot joined NHPR’s Rick Ganley on Morning Edition to answer listener questions about the state’s rollout of the vaccine for this age group. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Community transmission, COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still high in New Hampshire.
Dr. Chan and Dr. Talbot say we shouldn’t give up COVID restrictions and prevention strategies. This includes getting vaccinated, wearing masks indoors, social distancing and washing hands.
Dr. Chan says there are no planned updates to the state’s school guidance in the immediate future. He says just last week there were more than 25 clusters or outbreaks in schools, and the state needs more time for young children to get vaccinated.
Dr. Talbot says studies have shown that younger children are reporting fewer short-term side effects from the COVID vaccine when compared to adolescents and adults. Those short-term side effects include fatigue, muscle pain, headaches and chills.
Rick Ganley: The vaccine has been available for young children in this age group for just a few days now. Dr. Talbot, how is the rollout going so far? Are people able to get appointments?
Dr. Elizabeth Talbot: As far as I’m aware. I’ve been so impressed by the providers who are stepping up to this. So there are many providers across the state who are ready to engage in this next step, hopefully the last step, of this battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. So we’re aware that private providers, your usual health care providers, are stepping up to it, our commercial pharmacies, and then school associated clinics are happening as well.
Ganley: Are we seeing enough supply?
Talbot: Yes, we are. It’s coming to us from the federal government for free administration, and it’s coming in sort of proportional aliquots for each of the states. So indeed, this vaccine is coming to us and the supplies that are going to meet our needs over the next weeks and months.
Ganley: Dr. Chan, is the state updating its COVID guidance for schools based on the availability of the vaccine now for most school-aged children?
Dr. Benjamin Chan: So we continue to meet with our school partners twice a month. And this is going to be one of those topics of conversation that we will continue to address with them as the vaccine rollout progresses. But there are no planned updates to our guidance in the immediate future. Partly, because the vaccine just became available, right? We need to give children some time to be vaccinated.
And we will continually readdress this with the schools based on how vaccine rollout is going, based on the levels of COVID in communities, what we’re seeing in terms of clusters and outbreaks in schools. I mean, just last week we saw, you know, more than 25 clusters or outbreaks in school again. And so there’s still high risk for schools and transmission within schools. And so now is not the right time for schools to be letting their guard down. But now is the right time for children and for schools to help us in pushing out the vaccine and getting children vaccinated.
Ganley: Are there certain metrics that you’re looking at or certain intervals of time that you could be reassessing that data?
Chan: Yeah, I think it’s a really good question, and this is a question that’s being discussed more and more, even on a national level. And I think there are multiple data points that we’re looking at. One, is the level of vaccination and our ability to roll out vaccines to children, school-aged children. You know, we continue to look at the COVID numbers, though, look at the levels of community transmission in New Hampshire. And regionally, we’re looking at outbreaks and clusters, and then certainly we’re paying attention to what’s happening with hospitalizations and deaths. And when you look at all those numbers in New Hampshire, our numbers continue to go up. The incidence is going up. The test positivity is going up. Hospitalizations, you know, remain above 200 people hospitalized each day in New Hampshire. Deaths remain high. And so now it’s not the right time to be relaxing restrictions or prevention strategies in schools. But that time will come, and we’ve always said that our ability to relax restrictions is going to be tied to vaccines being available, but not just vaccines being available, children actually getting vaccinated.
Ganley: Dr. Talbot, what advice would you give to parents who are nervous about getting their young children vaccinated? You know, there’s lots of misinformation out there on safety. And you know, we’ve heard from some parents who say that their kids already got COVID and they have immunity. So they’re less eager to immediately get that vaccine. What’s your response to that?
Talbot: I recognize that everyone wants to do what’s right for their children. I’m a parent too. So I think knowing the facts will be incredibly reassuring for every parent who’s hesitant right now. One of the more common things that I hear is, ‘weren’t these vaccines rushed?’ And clearly not. This technology has been under investigation for decades, and it’s only the sense of urgency with this pandemic that’s led us to this great place we’re in now with the availability of vaccine.
So with regards to a predictable, expected side effects, sure, they exist. You already know that from other vaccines your children get. And with regards to this vaccine, studying thousands of kids is showing us that the short term side effects your child might feel are even less than have been reported for older adolescents and adults who have received these vaccines. So the typical things, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, some chills, joint pain, but these are short-term in balance with an incredible long-term benefit.
Ganley: Do you think the COVID vaccine is just as important as other vaccines that most kids get, you know, shots like Hep B or measles?
Talbot: I hadn’t thought of that, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say more important right now for this moment in our society, in our planet. You know that this pandemic is the worst we’ve seen in more than a hundred years, of course. And we all want to get back to the semblance of normal life. We want to drive this virus into an endemic state. Just make it a common occasional virus, maybe seasonal, et cetera. And we’re so far from that right now, as Dr. Chan described in the numbers, that we really need to take the trajectory of this pandemic into our hands by accessing vaccine.
Ganley: Do you hear a disconnect, though, from some parents who give push back and say, I don’t want to get this, this vaccine, but they’ve had other vaccines for their children?
Talbot: I get it. You know that this is a relatively new vaccine for a new disease and as said, I do believe that everybody has their children’s best interests in mind. It’s a matter to, I think, understand that we are in an absolute best-case scenario with regards to these vaccines. This was not sure that they would be this safe and this effective. And frankly, we could be at a turning point in our battle with COVID-19.
Ganley: I know schools and parents will want to have access to vaccination data for younger age groups when making these decisions. DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette has stated publicly that the state’s vaccination data has been inaccurate since the state of emergency ended back in June, and the CDC’s data is now becoming more unreliable. So, Dr. Chan, how is the state making sure that schools and the public in general are, you know, properly informed?
Chan: Yeah, it’s an important limitation in our data and in CDC’s data. We’ve always said that we are using data to help inform decisions that we make, you know, guidance recommendations that we make. And so it’s a problem not having access to accurate vaccination data. I will say that we’re looking at ways that we can try and make our data in our immunization information system more accurate more rapidly. I think that that’s the ideal case, the ideal situation.
We want to be able to have access to real accurate vaccination data. And unfortunately, this is one of the consequences, I think, of not having a fully functioning immunization information system or immunization registry at the start of the pandemic is that we’re trying to work through these difficulties as we respond to a pandemic. So we recognize it’s an important limitation for us, for community partners, for our schools. And I think we’re going to be trying to make rapid steps to improve that data over the coming weeks.
Ganley: But how do you improve that data? I mean, schools can’t collect accurate data on their COVID vaccination rate unless these vaccines were required. Isn’t that right?
Chan: So, you know, there are some legal complexities there, perhaps, that I’m not the best person to weigh in on about whether schools can collect vaccination data or not. I think in the ideal situation, this problem would be solved by trying to make our immunization registry, our immunization information system, accurate and up to date. That’s important not only for us to be looking at data and for schools to have better access to data, if not in their schools, than in their surrounding communities, but also, frankly, for health care providers to be able to know if their patients have been vaccinated and with what vaccines so that they can more effectively deliver care. So the way to improve that is to make sure our immunization registry is accurate, and that involves getting that data on vaccine administrations primarily from commercial pharmacies, which is the reporting problem that has caused this.
Ganley: There are many listeners who have messaged us saying that they are relying on vaccination data to know whether it’s safe to go out, you know, meet up with friends and family once again. Dr. Talbot, what does the state’s vaccination rate actually tell us? And is it a good way for people to measure how safe it is to do things they would normally do?
Talbot: Well, I don’t think that we’re at a stage of the infamous herd immunity where you can decide whether to adopt the usual mitigation strategies. You know, I think that we’re not fighting blind here. Even if there’s limitations in the data, we still know that masking indoors in settings of high transmission, such as in New Hampshire, maintaining optimal social distancing — don’t come to school or work sick. Don’t allow folks who are sick to come to public places. Wash your hands.
All those things are operative and will be operative for a long time as we try to capture the next 28 million people in this age group, 5- to 11-year-olds, in the coming weeks. We know that this delta variant is a wily one where even if you’re vaccinated, it’s possible to get usually a mild form or even an asymptomatic form of it and provide ongoing transmission. So yes, this is our goal is to get everyone vaccinated, but we’re not right now at that stage where I think that the numbers suggest we can relax our mitigation strategies.
Ganley: Well, we’ve heard the number, I know, in the past of 70 or 72 percent I think I’ve heard before of starting to reach that herd immunity. Is that still a number you feel is sufficient?
Talbot: I don’t think so. I’ve given up looking at that kind of exacting number. There are lots of models out there, but we are looking for as high as possible, you know. Because this virus can transmit, even when a person has been vaccinated, we’re looking for more than that. You know, we are just doing the best we can to have people get their questions answered and bring them into vaccination, and ultimately transition this virus into an endemic state, one that we can live with.
Ganley: Well, now that the vaccine is available for almost every age group, how does this change where we’re headed with the pandemic? I know, Gov. Sununu has said many times in press conferences and in interviews that the state should prepare for a difficult winter surge, when COVID case numbers have been on a downward trend nationally, but not here in New Hampshire. You know, how does that possible winter surge look right now?
Chan: Yeah, so, you know, I think we hesitate to predict the course of this pandemic. Because as we saw over the summer and into the fall, there’s always surprises and challenges that have been presented to us over the course of this pandemic. So, you know, I think that the risk of us going into another surge or the numbers to continue to go up in New Hampshire certainly is there. We’re seeing the numbers continue to go up in New Hampshire. We’re not sure how high they’re going to go.
But if you look at other areas of the country, the downward trend across the country has slowed or stopped. It’s plateaued. And if you look at other areas across the globe, there are other countries that are seeing increases again in COVID-19, particularly in Europe. So, you know, the risk is there and especially as people move indoors, they’re in closer, confined spaces together. The risk of transmitting COVID and other respiratory viruses like flu are there, and I think it highlights the need for people to get vaccinated. We believe vaccination is safe. We believe it’s effective even for children. But while we’re working to get more and more people vaccinated and with levels of COVID still high in New Hampshire, it’s still important for people to take precautions and the necessary steps to prevent spread of COVID 19.
Ganley: What’s your answer to that, Dr. Talbot?
Talbot: Well, certainly in agreement with what Dr. Chan has said, that we have learned not to assume we know about this virus and what it’s planning to do with us. The emergence of a next variant is possible. We don’t see anything on the horizon, but Delta has taught us a lot, right? And I ultimately think that the lesson here is as much as we are fatigued from all of this that we need to stay strong in these strategies we know work. You know, there’s no question about it with regards to the power of these vaccines and the social distancing, masking, handwashing, et cetera. So I don’t think this is the new normal for us as a society, as a species. But it’s been a long haul and we’re still in it. So don’t give up now.
New Hampshire’s congressional delegation — four Democrats who all voted for the infrastructure spending package passed by the U.S. House last week — gathered under a rusting bridge that spans the Merrimack River in Manchester on Tuesday to hail the $1 trillion bill as a win for the state.
The funding package touches on a wide variety of infrastructure, from bridges and sewage projects to airports and electrical vehicle charging stations.
“Over a billion dollars coming to New Hampshire,” Congresswoman Annie Kuster said, noting the size and monetary scale of the plan requires close attention. “We have to keep our ‘m’s’ and ‘b’s’ and ‘t’s’ straight.”
With the spending now approved by Congress, it will be up to N.H. Department of Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan to oversee how portions of it are awarded.
During the press conference, Sheehan said transportation officials began identifying potential highway projects even before the bill’s approval last Friday.
“Because of the level of bipartisan support for the plan, we had anticipated some increases in federal funding,” Sheehan said.
The state is currently in the process of revising its 10 Year Transportation plan, a regularly updated guidance document that lays out which roads, bridges and other transit projects are slated for upgrades. That document will now be expanded to include the additional federal money, before it heads to the Executive Council for approval.
“Then we will send it to the governor for his consideration,” Sheehan said. “And finally, the plan will be delivered to the legislature and advanced this session before being signed into law in June 2022.”
Among the projects likely to see funding are many of the state’s 341 “red list” bridges, which have been identified as structurally deficient.
A proposed commuter rail line linking Boston with Nashua, Manchester and possibly Concord is already in what Sheehan called a project design phase, with officials now finalizing the route, location of stations, and funding needs. That proposal will likely take another 12 months to complete.
Here’s a breakdown of what New Hampshire will receive as part of the legislation, according to the delegation:
At least $1.1 billion in federal highway aid, and $225 million in additional funds for bridge replacement and repair;
At least $125 million over five years for public transportation;
At least $100 million to expand broadband coverage to the small portions of the state where that service is currently not available;
Approximately $420 million for investment into water infrastructure;
$5.6 million to protect against wildfires;
$45 million for the state’s airports;
$12.4 million to protect against cyberattacks.
In retrospect, perhaps Gov. Chris Sununu’s announcement Tuesday — that he will seek a fourth term as governor rather than try to unseat Sen. Maggie Hassan — shouldn’t have been a surprise. As often as Sununu has said he loves his job, he’s derided Congress as ineffectual and a place where doing nothing is called success.
In the end, no amount of courting from national Republicans who saw a Sununu victory as the path to reclaiming the U.S. Senate could overcome that.
“My responsibility is not to the gridlock and politics of Washington; it’s to the citizens of New Hampshire,” Sununu said Tuesday.
Few politicians understand what went into Sununu’s decision as well as Judd Gregg, who was elected governor of New Hampshire in 1988 and served in the U.S. Senate from 1993 to 2011.
“As governor, for every action, there’s a reaction,” Gregg said Tuesday following Sununu’s announcement. “Whether it’s an issue with COVID or roads or safety, you call in your department heads and you say, ‘Let’s solve this problem,’ and expect them to solve it in a short period of time.”
But Gregg also pointed to considerations beyond politics. As governor, he said, “if you have a child’s football game, you can get to it.”
For Sununu, a successful run for Senate would have meant uprooting his wife, Valerie, and the couple’s three children from their home in Newfields. Gregg said that while some in the House of Representatives manage to commute to D.C., it’s not really an option for senators.
“Knowing Chris, I think that a big influence around this decision is his ability to be with his family and participate in their lives,” Gregg said.
And, for his part, Sununu was clear that New Hampshire is the place he intends to do that.
“My commitment is obviously that of a dad, raising his kids so they can enjoy the same amazing place that I had the opportunity to grow up in,” Sununu said.
Long before Sununu was governor of New Hampshire, his life was tied to the state — and its politics.
As the son of John H. Sununu, Chris Sununu grew up under his father’s governorship from 1983 to 1989, and later his role as President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, from 1989 until John Sununu’s resignation in 1991.
Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general and past Republican Party national committeeman, said Sununu’s childhood experience likely influenced his decision not to run for Senate. Sununu moved to Washington, D.C., during “the tender age of junior high and high school,” he said.
“That’s not easy to do when you’re that age,” Rath said.
After leaving Washington, it would take decades for Sununu to join his family’s political dynasty.
He gained an environmental engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998, and worked at waste sites and water treatment plants for a decade. When his brother John E. Sununu served a single term as a U.S. senator from New Hampshire, losing re-election to Jeanne Shaheen in 2008, Chris Sununu stuck to family business interests, heading Sununu Enterprises, which involved itself in real estate development and business investment.
In 2010, he took over Waterville Valley Resort with a group of investors and ran for Executive Council District 3 that same year. After serving six years on the council, he launched his campaign for governor. At that point, observers saw Sununu as much more invested in Concord than Washington.
To Mike Dennehy, a longtime Republican political consultant, Sununu has been anything but cryptic when it comes to his feelings about the U.S. Capitol.
“One thing I always go back to is when Sununu said he never wanted to go to D.C.,” Dennehy said in an email. “I have to believe his lack of interest in D.C. was a driving force.”
When he heard Sununu’s announcement, University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala wondered why he had discounted the option of a fourth term. “This doesn’t seem like someone who wants to be a U.S. senator,” he recalled thinking. “You could draw a straight line back to when he first started being governor. This was someone who really liked being governor, and there was the potential there that he was going to be like John Lynch in that respect.” Lynch served four terms, from 2005 to 2013.
Like Scala, Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor at New England College, has long followed the state’s politics. He, too, expected to hear Sununu announce a Senate run. But two things gave him pause: Sununu’s desire to make the best decision for his family and the governor’s experience of living in Washington, D.C., as a child.
“My first reaction is that all of us thought that the pressure was too great. The encouragement was too great. There was a clear path forward for him,” Lesperance said.
But Sununu’s enthusiasm for dropping by diners, visiting all parts of the state during his 603 Tour, and talking with voters and business owners is obvious, he said.
“You get that sense from him that this corner office and the work he could do in New Hampshire, even with COVID and all the challenges there, he still seems to be a guy that’s enjoying the job,” Lesperance said. “How many elected officials can you say that about?”
Rath put it simply: “He likes being the captain of his own ship.”
While national Republican leaders may be lamenting Sununu’s decision, Scala said it has to be welcome news to the Hassan campaign. He had predicted that facing off against Sununu would be the toughest fight of Hassan’s career, especially if Democrats and President Joe Biden continue to slip in the polls.
Given Sununu’s popularity and the political support and fundraising he could have expected, Lesperance agreed.
“I think he had every chance to beat her,” he said. “Anybody other than Chris Sununu that runs doesn’t start with that advantage, and it gives (Hassan) the power of incumbency. It gives her a little bit more of a head start on whoever is going to be your challenger. It’s a good day for Team Hassan.”
In the wake of Sununu’s announcement, Republicans also appeared to lose a couple of potential Plan B candidates.
Former U.S. senators Kelly Ayotte, who was unseated by Hassan in 2016, and Scott Brown, who made an unsuccessful bid against Shaheen in 2014, had been considered top contenders for Hassan’s seat should Sununu decide not to run. But both appear to have other plans.
The Associated Press reported in a tweet that Ayotte said she was focusing on her family, not another run for office. WMUR reported that Brown will focus on the 1st Congressional District candidacy of his wife, Gail Huff Brown. The only declared U.S. Senate candidate on the Republican side is Don Bolduc, a former Army general who hoped to challenge Shaheen last year but lost in the primary. But even without Sununu in the race, Republicans still see it as a seat to turn, Scala said.
“I’m not convinced that Republicans’ second or third choice wouldn’t wind up being perfectly fine against Maggie Hassan given the larger national environment,” he said.
As for the gubernatorial race, Lesperance and Scala said Democrats are at a significant disadvantage.
“He’s a very popular governor,” Lesperance said. “And the polling data throughout the COVID crisis showed that he was popular with Republicans, but he was also popular with moderates and he was popular with Democrats on the handling of COVID. So, they will have a very tall hill to climb, and there’s not anybody that jumps out at me as an obvious candidate for them that would immediately come into the race neck and neck with Chris Sununu.”
Congressman Chris Pappas has been talked about as a potential challenger. But like Hassan, Pappas will be tied to how Biden and his fellow Democrats in Congress are faring in their handling of the pandemic.
“The larger political environment doesn’t look good for Democrats and looks very good for Republicans of all sorts,” Scala said.