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Local schools could host vaccine clinics for younger kids as early as December
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With the recent approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11, schools across the Monadnock Region are looking to make the shots readily available to students who want them.

Local schools have been “very active and receptive” to hosting clinics for the youngsters, according to Jane Parayil, an emergency preparedness coordinator with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, which has overseen the region’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“As we know, this is an ever-changing process with many wheels turning,” Parayil said in an email Wednesday. “Currently planning these clinics takes a few weeks to ensure there is enough communication to the schools, families, parents and children for scheduling appointments and receiving consent.”

The public health network hopes to start rolling out first-dose clinics for kids 5 to 11 in some schools in December, Parayil added.

Parents would need to register their child for an appointment at school clinics, and information for that process will be sent out by schools, according to Parayil. For clinics during school hours, electronic and written consent would be required prior to an appointment. For afterschool clinics, only electronic consent would be required, as the parents would be expected to accompany their children to appointments.

Last week, federal health officials approved the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children age 5 to 11 — the first to get the OK for that age group.

The vaccine has been found to be about 91 percent effective for this age group, and no severe cases of COVID-19 were found in those who were inoculated, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For younger children, the vaccine is one-third of the adult dose and administered with a smaller needle, according to the FDA. Side effects can include arm soreness and fatigue, but are typically mild and short-lived, the agency says. The vaccine’s safety has been studied in about 3,000 children, and no serious side effects have been detected in the ongoing study.

Last month, officials with N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 met with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network to learn about organizing clinics in Keene schools, superintendent Robert Malay said at a school board meeting Tuesday. And now that people 5 and older are eligible for the vaccine, all schools in the district are interested in having clinics, Malay said.

“We want to offer vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines, in our schools in a similar vein as we offer the flu vaccines in our schools,” Malay said at the meeting, emphasizing that the vaccinations would not be mandatory. A state law that took effect earlier this year prohibits public facilities and services — including public schools — from requiring COVID-19 immunization.

“But for those who want that, and want that accessibility, we’re trying to make it easier for them,” Malay said.

Each SAU 29 school may take a different approach when it comes to scheduling as they explore offering the vaccinations during school hours, in the evenings, or on the weekends, he added.

These would be the first COVID-19 vaccine clinics offered by SAU 29 — which covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — Malay told the Sentinel on Thursday.

And SAU 29 isn’t alone in its interest to host vaccination appointments for younger kids.

Since the vaccine was approved for children 12 and older earlier this year, local districts have already held clinics for students in that age group and plan to continue doing so.

The Hinsdale School District has held three vaccine clinics for its older students, with a fourth scheduled for Monday, Nov. 15, according to Ann Marie Diorio, executive assistant to the superintendent. And while the doses for younger students may not be ready to include at next week’s clinic, Diorio said, the district does plan to coordinate with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network to have more on-site vaccination opportunities in the future.

In the spring, the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network reached out to the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District to organize COVID-19 vaccine clinics, according to communications coordinator Nick Handy. As of Wednesday, the district hadn’t heard from the network about another round of vaccine clinics for younger kids, Handy said.

“That being said, the district has been reaching out to see if a local hospital or other entity could help with a clinic,” Handy said in an email.

The ConVal School District — which covers Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple — has also worked with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network to organize vaccine clinics in the past and plans to continue doing so, according to Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders.

Besides the potential clinics that local schools could host on their campuses, there are other opportunities for Monadnock Region kids to get inoculated. Cheshire Medical Center in Keene and Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough both have kid-specific clinics scheduled throughout November and December.

People can also visit vaccines.nh.gov to find other locations, such as pharmacies, that are administering COVID-19 vaccines.

Schools that are interested in partnering with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network to offer vaccine clinics can contact Jane Parayil at jparayil@cheshire-med.com.

Opponents of $22.5 million vaccine contract blast ‘underhanded’ Executive Council vote

The vaccine and mandate protesters who took credit last month when the Executive Council’s Republicans rejected a $22.5 million federal vaccine contract were surprised and unhappy to learn on Twitter Wednesday that most of those Republicans had reversed themselves. And not only because their victory was short-lived.

The contract wasn’t on the public agenda or the council’s website until several hours after the meeting, giving them no chance to be there and again voice their objections face-to-face.

“I’m mad about the contract,” said J.R. Hoell, treasurer of Rebuild NH, the grassroots group that has led the challenge. “I’m extremely angry about the underhanded way this was brought up.”

This contract has so upset vaccine and mandate opponents that they prevented a vote on it in September by protesting until the meeting was abruptly canceled. More than 100 packed the room at the second meeting, and nine were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Following that meeting, Gov. Chris Sununu, who supports the contract, called it unfortunate that a few protesters had interrupted the government’s work, but he said that’s a risk when government is kept open for public participation.

“We pride ourselves on transparency and openness,” he said then. “The Executive Council is a hallmark of that system.”

Sununu decides what goes on the council’s agenda. The $22.5 million contract was added as a “late item,” meaning it came in after the agenda had been written. In these cases, late items are posted on the council’s website alongside the agenda. But that was not done in this case until after the meeting.

State offices were closed Thursday for Veterans Day, and Sununu’s spokesman could not be reached. Sununu condemned the council’s rejection of the contract last month.

The contract, which would add 13 temporary employees to support the rollout and tracking of vaccines, heads next to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, which must also approve it before Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette can spend the money.

Committee members questioned the contract when it came before them in September and tabled it without taking a vote. When they take it up again, which could be as early as their Nov. 19 meeting, they can expect to hear complaints not only about the contract’s purpose but also what its opponents see as the governor and council’s less-than-transparent way of reviving it.

“We’re sending emails to them right now. What we do beyond that has still not been decided,” said Hoell, who delivered a petition signed by nearly 2,300 people opposing the federal vaccine money to committee members at their last meeting. Asked whether Rebuild NH will turn out a crowd at the committee’s meeting, Hoell said, “There is a real possibility because of the underhandedness.”

Terese Grinnell, a nurse who has been among the most vocal opponents of vaccines, mandates, and the contracts, was one of the nine arrested. According to her arrest documents, she is accused of saying “Amen” and “We’re being arrested?” after being told that continued verbal disruptions would result in arrest.

She is scheduled to be in court the day of the fiscal committee’s vote but has instructed her supporters to leave the courthouse in time to get to the meeting. “Everyone is so righteously angry right now,” she said. “I think it would be political suicide for the fiscal committee if they vote yes.”

Opponents’ grievances will get a mixed reception.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, said he will vote for the contract and isn’t concerned about the way it made it through the council. “These people had their opportunities to be heard,” he said. He added: “People’s lives are at stake. That’s the issue here.”

But Sen. Bob Giuda, a Warren Republican, is sympathetic to complaints about both the contract and its passage.

Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat, said she is a definite yes on the contract.

“With the lowest rate of vaccination in New England and an 84 percent rise in cases in the past two weeks, it is urgent that Gov. Sununu step up to the plate and be a leader,” she said. “Our economic and public health and well-being demand action, not platitudes and empty words. I certainly hope he will direct DHHS to bring this funding request back to the fiscal committee next week so we can do our job and accept the return of our tax dollars — just as every other state has already done.”

Giuda doesn’t support putting more money into promoting the vaccine because he believes vaccines are widely available and every adult who wants to be vaccinated or have their children vaccinated can easily do so. The manner in which the contract passed is also a concern, he said, especially given the volatile nature of the public debate and the recent arrests. After watching taped recordings of the meeting, he doesn’t believe the arrests were justified.

“This was, in my opinion, a political sleight of hand,” Giuda said of the council vote. “We don’t serve to rule.”

Rep. Jess Edwards, an Auburn Republican and committee member, had received more than 100 emails with complaints about the vote by midday Thursday. “People should be outraged,” he said. “We have a constitutional obligation in New Hampshire to have a full and transparent government. And we do that by public disclosure of important votes. And we know that the vote on this is a vote that has a lot of interest. Even if it were an issue of no interest, we still have the same duty.”

When Sununu brought the contract forward at Wednesday’s meeting, he noted that Councilor Joe Kenney had asked that his nonbinding resolution protecting the state’s interests be added. Kenney said Thursday his primary goal was to put on record his and other councilors’ concerns that language within the contract could be read to say the state would have to agree to all COVID-19 federal orders — including those related to quarantine and social isolation — if it accepted the money. (Attorney General John Formella told the council at its prior meeting that was a misinterpretation of the language.)

“I wanted language that (said) if the federal government imposed isolation and quarantine mandates onto the citizens of New Hampshire, that we would simply give the money back and say, ‘Keep your hands off New Hampshire,’ ” he said.

Councilors Janet Stevens and David Wheeler joined Kenney in reversing their vote and supporting the contract, along with Councilor Cinde Warmington. She has supported the contract from the start and called Kenney’s nonbinding resolution legally meaningless and political cover. Councilor Ted Gatsas, a Manchester Republican, abstained without saying why.

Asked about the way in which the contract was brought back for a second vote, Kenney said the council has taken up many federal contracts related to the vaccine and the public can expect it to continue to do so. Contract opponents “have the ability to come to every council meeting to express concerns about any and all contracts,” he said.

The suggestion does not sit well with Andrew Manuse, chairman of Rebuild NH.

“I’m disgusted,” he said. “Those of us who have jobs, families, and other business to attend to in our lives can’t be watching the people we elect like a hawk every waking minute. You would think that we could trust them to not flip-flop on something this important. These two-faced back-stabbers are going to have to answer to what they’ve done at some point, whether at the ballot box or when they face God.”

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Cheshire County announces plans to buy Keene-based DiLuzio ambulance
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Cheshire County plans to buy DiLuzio Ambulance Service in Keene, officials announced Thursday night.

The purchase comes after years of discussions among county officials and local fire departments and emergency services about the costs and personnel shortages that have long been a struggle, the county said in a news release.

“It’s going to be great,” Bob DiLuzio Sr., co-owner of the ambulance service, said in an interview Thursday night. “[Cheshire County] can offer more than we can because the fact is, it’s very hard to find qualified people. The pay is not spectacular, [so] these people are devoted people.”

County Administrator Chris Coates said in an email that while the county is not immune to the same staffing challenges, “the county does have more resources to be somewhat more competitive. The County’s benefits and opportunities for participation in a retirement plan are generally better than the broader market.”

Coates said nearly all of the funding to purchase the DiLuzio assets, which include its contracts with local towns, will come from the federal government.

The purchase price has not been disclosed while the plans are under review by government officials and documents are finalized, according to the release.

Talks between the county and the private emergency medical service — owned by the DiLuzio family since 1975 — have been ongoing since January, with hopes of completing the transaction by 2022, according to the news release.

Bob DiLuzio, who owns the company with his wife, Linda, said the county approached him about selling. And after 60 years in the business, coupled with the toll of working through the COVID-19 pandemic, they agreed.

“... One of the primary reasons the County is undertaking this purchase is that it is simply time for the DiLuzios to retire from this public service ... and closing the agency was not an option,” Coates said.

The sale would turn DiLuzio into a public entity, as a department of the Cheshire County government. The private ambulance service is the primary ambulance for a number of area towns and contracts with others to provide backup to their emergency medical services.

Coates said the benefits to the ambulance’s becoming a government-owned entity are access to state and federal grants, the resources to borrow for capital purchases and to tolerate the payment cycles from insurance companies, and the ability to offer enhanced benefits.

“As to the problems, certainly the County will be dealing with the labor shortage that we are seeing both locally and nationally. It will also be addressing the real estate situation as ultimately the County will need to find a new location(s) out of which we will operate the services.”

The towns with DiLuzio contracts are Alstead, Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Richmond, Stoddard, Sullivan, Swanzey, Troy, Walpole and Winchester, and the company also acts as backup for Keene, which contracts to provide services for other towns, Coates said. Those contracts will be honored until their expiration or renewal dates, he said.

“It is likely that, as with all contracts involving substantial labor and benefits, costs will increase. Most if not all of the contracted communities have been anticipating an increase and some of those discussions have already begun,” Coates said.

Once the transaction is complete, DiLuzio Sr. said all staff will need to reapply for their jobs, but they will all be offered employment.

“It’s strictly a technical issue. Everyone will be offered their job, and because of the legality ... on the day of the closing, they no longer work for DiLuzio,” he said. “ ... They have to be hired by the county.”

The county posted an announcement on its website Thursday that it’s holding job fairs on Tuesday, Nov. 16, and Thursday, Nov. 18, to hire EMTs, AEMTs and paramedics for the new service.

This article has been updated to include additional details from Cheshire County and Bob DiLuzio Sr.