Shaheen: Help is on the way

January 13, 2021

Help is on the way and there is light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel.

That was a collective message offered Wednesday morning as state health providers, experts and leaders spent a virtual hour with New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen giving updates and thoughts on how the state's pandemic vaccine effort is going and what is needed from state and federal leaders to keep the process moving forward.

Since the Food and Drug Administration's emergency authorization of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines last month, state officials have distributed more than 30,000 vaccines to frontline workers across New Hampshire, including first responders and health care employees, as well as residents and staff at long-term care facilities, which have been among the hardest hit by this pandemic.

During Wednesday's virtual meeting, Shaheen heard more from local health care workers about their successes and challenges, as well as the need to continue to get shots in the arms of those around the state.

Shaheen began the call by paying tribute to those who lost their lives during the riots at the Capitol building in Washington D.C. last week, and said, "it's a tragic loss of life that should not have happened."

With the news of that day, one Shaheen called "traumatic," the focus on the daily coronavirus cases and deaths was put on the back burner. However, Shaheen said it's important to keep the vaccine news at the forefront, as states continue to work hard to get as many shots in people's arms as possible.

Shaheen said with the most recently approved coronavirus support package, more help is on the way.

"Money is coming," she said, adding she hopes things will start moving forward more quickly when it comes to the vaccination process.

Health leaders and experts on the call offered their own views of how things were going in each of their respective areas of the state, from hospitals to smaller medical centers and providers. 

Patricia Tilley, the deputy director of Public Health for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said that New Hampshire has been planning for decades for a potential pandemic scenario.

Tilly added that the state is still in Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout, with about 1,000 registering per day to receive their shots.

Tilly said the first phase hopes to conclude by the end of the month, but with the federal government now expanding those who may be included for the vaccine at various phases, that makes the process more challenging, but more exciting.

"I'm excited about that," Tilly said. "People are eager to get it line."

Some said treating those with active COVID-19 often takes precedence over vaccine work.

Steve Ahnen, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, told Shaheen that hospitals around the state are working collaboratively with a goal of "sharing support to get as many people vaccinated as possible."

"There is hope, there is light at the end of this tunnel," Ahnen said.

From the standpoint of a primary care medical practice, Dr. Dan Wazkowski, chief medical officer at Derry Medical Center, said some of the challenges include having the staff ready to help research patients who want the vaccine and to get the word out to patients that the vaccine is safe and should be administered.

Derry Medical Center serves about 65,000 patients, Wazkowski said, making it the largest independent primary care office in the state.

"The challenges we face are like everybody else," he said. "It's more of a struggle to bring patients into the office."

Wazkowski suggested more staff, more outreach, more information and more support.

"Giving the shot is the easy part," he said.

For Shaheen, it's all about continuing to have the state's health leaders and experts weigh in on their concerns, thoughts and how they feel the vaccination process can be streamlined or supported.

"What I'm hearing loud and clear is you need more resources," the senator said.

Shaheen urged everyone to continue to share their information, whether challenges or successes, with her so that all help can be offered when it can and the Granite State's citizens will continue to be up-to-date on vaccine information.

"Keep us informed," Shaheen said, "Guidance and better information about how much vaccine is coming to New Hampshire is really important so we can make sure you are getting (the guidance) you need, and as many of you have said, help is on the way."

By:  Julie Huss
Source: Eagle Tribune