If there’s one thing Cheshire Medical Center’s chief administrator says would help health-care providers quickly distribute COVID-19 vaccines, it’s simplicity.
Cheshire Medical President and CEO Dr. Don Caruso was one of a handful of medical professionals to participate in a Wednesday morning teleconference with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to discuss vaccination efforts and what can be done at the federal level to improve the process. Caruso said streamlining the requirements for delivering vaccines and providing clear direction would go a long way toward immunizing as many people as quickly as possible.
“Our plea is, as we go down this path, is it has to be simple; it can’t be complex,” he said. “We’re very willing to do all the things we can do to make that happen, but the more complex the rollout is, the slower that we’ll be able to give vaccines to our communities, which we really feel is important, ultimately, to slow this disease down.”
For example, he said, the process of verifying the number of co-morbidities someone has can be time consuming and takes away from health-care workers’ ability to actually work with patients.
New Hampshire is currently in phase 1A of its vaccine rollout plan and is set to move into phase 1B in coming weeks. Among those eligible for the vaccine as part of group 1B are people who have at least two co-morbidities that would put them at an extremely high risk of developing severe symptoms from the novel coronavirus.
Cheshire Medical Center gave its first dose of the vaccine on Dec. 18. Since then, 1,044 people have gotten the shot from the Keene hospital as of Wednesday night, according to Ryan Hornblower, who serves as the hospital’s EMS and emergency-management coordinator and vaccine coordinator.
And while hoping for more flexibility going forward, Caruso said the vaccine rollout has been going well, with much of the hospital’s staff already having received their first jab and the second round of doses underway. However, he said the logistics of planning for vaccine distribution are not always certain.
“We don’t know how many vials we will get,” he said. “We don’t know how many doses are in a vial.”
In addition, he noted that the hospital has seen a dramatic increase in demand for inpatient care, particularly in the past couple of weeks, but said New Hampshire hospitals have been working together to make sure everyone who needs treatment gets it.
Across the country, states have struggled to keep up with the demand for vaccinations and to establish clear protocols for how available doses should be rationed, Bloomberg reported Monday. Meanwhile, NHPR reported over the weekend that some frontline health-care workers who are coming due for their second shot were unable to make an appointment as the state transitions to a new system to prepare for future phases.
Other health-care professionals on Wednesday’s call agreed with Caruso’s plea for simplifying the distribution process and also said more resources from the federal government would facilitate a smooth rollout.
Dr. Holly Mintz, of Elliot Hospital’s Bedford office, said she has been inundated with questions and concerns about when people will be able to get the vaccine. She said she understands their urgency but asked for a little patience.
“What we’re going to need, to not completely and totally overwhelm our staff, is messaging to the public that we need them to have faith in us,” she said. “We need them to trust us, that we know who they are, and we know they need the vaccine, and we will be reaching out to them.”
Patricia Tilley, deputy director of the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, said to date, the state has received around 80,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and has given a first dose to around 50,000 people, with thousands of frontline health-care workers having received their second dose. She said the state is on track to meet its goal of moving into phase 1B by the end of the month.
After hearing from Wednesday’s slate of medical professionals, Shaheen said she’ll continue to work in Washington to help ensure hospitals and other providers have what they need to keep the vaccinations rolling.
“I know it’s not an easy time, but as several of you have said, things are looking up. Help is on the way,” she said. “So the more efficient we can be with these vaccines, the better, and the more people we can get immunized, and we’re here to help do that.”
Do you have a question about the COVID-19 vaccine? The Sentinel is hosting a Facebook Live Q&A on Friday, Jan. 15, at 1:30 p.m. Information here: www.sentinelsource.com/news/coronavirus/vaccine/