Teenagers have been cleared to get the COVID-19 vaccine for more than four months, but a majority of Monadnock Region towns are still reporting low inoculation rates among 12- to 19-year-olds.
“These are worrisome numbers. Long story short, there is significant room for improvement,” said Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious-disease expert at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene.
The Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization to the Pfizer vaccine for those 12 and older on May 10. (The other two approved vaccines, by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are available only to those 18 and older, though Moderna is seeking FDA clearance for people as young as 12.)
New Hampshire allowed 12- to 15-year-olds to start making appointments three days later. As of Tuesday, nearly 48,000 Granite State residents who are 19 or younger — or about 37 percent — have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.
In Cheshire County, about 30 percent of the 7,702 residents between 12 and 19 have been fully vaccinated, the data show, putting Cheshire in the bottom half of New Hampshire’s 10 counties with the seventh highest rate statewide. Rockingham County has the highest rate among the age group with 40 percent, followed closely by Hillsborough and Merrimack counties with about 35 percent each.
Across the Monadnock Region, town-by-town rates for teens range from as low as 13 percent (Rindge) to as high as 79 percent (Dublin).
Vaccination rates in larger communities like Keene and Swanzey are similar to the county’s, with 29 percent and 36 percent of teens fully vaccinated, respectively.
Smaller towns — unsurprisingly, given their lower population numbers — make up all of the inoculation rates of 50 percent or higher. In addition to Dublin, 62 percent of Hancock’s teens, 55 percent of Westmoreland’s and 48 percent of Marlborough’s are fully vaccinated.
The lowest figures are more scattered, with only 15 percent of Claremont’s 1,078 teens, 20 percent of Charlestown’s 500 and 19 percent of Hillsboro’s 557 kids in this age group getting both doses.
Of the region’s towns for which the health department had vaccination rates available for 12- to 19-year-old residents and for the population overall, Dublin (with a rate of 62 percent overall) was the only community to have a higher rate among its teens.
Vaccination data for this age group was unavailable for several Monadnock Region towns: Acworth, Gilsum, Harrisville, Langdon, Marlow, Nelson, Roxbury, Richmond, Stoddard, Sullivan and Surry.
Khole, of Cheshire Medical, said there is no “formal, crystallized number” where vaccination rates should be, but generally, the higher the better.
There could be a couple reasons for the region’s generally low teen vaccination rates, he added.
First, there is a significant amount of misinformation circulating online, and with teenagers often spending a good chunk of their time on social media platforms, Khole said they may be seeing false claims on the vaccines’ efficacy and safety.
Parents may also be hesitant to vaccinate their kids because they are concerned about possible long-term effects or for other safety reasons. But Khole said this argument has no merit, with countless studies proving the vaccines are safe.
“Obviously no one can predict five to 10 years from now, but to be honest, we have enough data from other vaccines. It’s not like vaccines are a new concept,” Khole said. “... And there shouldn’t be concerns on the safety and efficacy of these vaccines. I think that’s been proven time and time again.”
And as with any age group, Khole emphasized the need for the vaccination rates among teens to increase.
“This is an age group that is out and about, who may be meeting other immunocompromised hosts or elderly individuals, so even if they don’t get sick, they could transmit the virus while in an asymptomatic phase,” he said. “I think it boils down to responsibility of one’s self but also those around you.”
Several vaccination clinics were held at Monadnock Region schools in May and June before summer vacation, according to Tricia Zahn, director of the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, which runs Keene’s vaccination site.
Schools that have held clinics through the public health network include Hinsdale Middle/High School, ConVal Regional High School and South Meadow School in Peterborough, as well as Great Brook School in Antrim. The Jaffrey-Rindge and Fall Mountain school districts also held clinics.
Zahn added she’s in contact with multiple districts and municipalities to help with their COVID-19 vaccination efforts this fall.
The public health network is also hosting several COVID-19 vaccine pop-up clinics in the coming weeks, including Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the network’s site at 62 Maple Ave. in Keene.
People can make an appointment at cheshiremed.org/vaccines. Walk-ins will also be accepted while supplies last.
Otherwise, vaccination appointments for pharmacies, hospitals and other health agencies can be made at vaccines.nh.gov or by calling the state’s hotline at 2-1-1.
Vaccination data current as of Tuesday.