It’s been a little more than a month since the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services released COVID-19 vaccination rates by town. Although local municipalities requested town-level rates in order to make data-based decisions on their public health response, there are few new COVID mitigation strategies on the horizon in the Monadnock Region, which had lower-than-average vaccination rates as compared to the state as a whole.
“The way I see it is that ... we’ve pumped out all the information, and all the people that want it have gotten it,” Rindge Fire Chief and Emergency Medical Director Rick Donovan said last week. Rindge had a vaccination rate of just 33.5 percent as of June 23, one of the lowest rates in the state at that time. Although Donovan continues to advocate state recommendations and CDC guidelines as they pertain to community events, such as seating audiences in pods rather than one large commingled group, he said he is trying not to push the issue too far. At this point, letting the topic of vaccinations sit for a little bit before revisiting might be the best option for a community with a comparatively low vaccination rate, Donovan said.
“I don’t want to irritate people,” he said. Meanwhile, he continues to set a good example within town buildings, and is watching local and statewide trends for the potential of a resurgence. “I’m gonna hope that there isn’t [a resurgence],” he said. “But I’m a firm believer in preparation,” he said, likening it to loading up the fire trucks in advance of a storm.
In Temple, the selectboard discussed bringing the state’s Mobile Vaccine Van to town at a meeting in July. “I don’t think we’re in bad shape,” Emergency Management Director Bill McDonnell said, “but the suggestion about bringing the van out is a good one, and I’m sure the selectboard will pursue that.” Getting to a vaccine site has not been an apparent barrier to Temple residents, McDonnell said, but “it doesn’t hurt” to provide residents with another opportunity to get vaccinated.
Statewide, the vaccination rate started to flatten at the start of June. The fully vaccinated percent of the population was 53.7 percent as of Thursday, according to the state vaccination dashboard. Study results released by the University of New Hampshire on June 25 echoed the trend: Although 74 percent of the survey’s 1,602 responders said they’d been vaccinated, 25 percent said they would probably or almost certainly not get the vaccine. “Among those who are not vaccinated, very few would change their mind even if advised to by their doctor or family or if the vaccine were required by their employer,” the survey reported. Vaccination hesitancy follows political alignments, according to the survey: “Those who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 (45 percent) remain far more likely than those who voted for Joe Biden (8 percent) to say they will not get vaccinated.”
Between 80 and 90 percent of Monadnock Community Hospital staff were vaccinated as of early July, one of the highest vaccination rates among health care employees statewide, Marketing and Communications Manager Philip McFarland said. The hospital has been making accurate vaccine information readily available via its website and patient emailing lists, and has no plans for a change in tactics in light of the tailing-off numbers, he said. Hospital personnel continue to meet weekly with area health care providers to keep them abreast with the latest news and guidance, infection preventionist Claudia Cleary said.
It’s still too soon to know when vaccinated people might need a booster shot, Cleary said, but the hospital is listening to the CDC’s advice as it rolls out. “They’re hoping and they’re expecting that we may be OK for the first year,” she said.
Residents with questions about the vaccine can get information from the hospital, town emergency management directors, and their primary care physician, Cleary said. “It’s very, very safe,” she said, “no different than getting a flu vaccine.” Side effects last only a day or so, she said. If you’re unvaccinated and living in a community with low vaccination rates, “be very, very careful, and very diligent,” she said. “Continue to do all the precautions from the last year and a half,” she said, including wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing.