Perspectives: Radio Spotlight on Greater Seacoast Community Health

Chief Strategy Officer Lara Drolet was interviewed by Celeste Baranyi for their radio show Perspectives which aired on November 13th, 2022 on Townsquare Media affiliated radio stations throughout the greater seacoast area. 

The interview touched on Greater Seacoast Community Health, the Strafford County Public Health Network, and the work being done by staff members to serve pour mission of providing accessible health care. 

Listen to the full interview

N.H. wants to get vaccine vans rolling again, as new COVID boosters arrive

N.H. wants to get vaccine vans rolling again, as new COVID boosters arrive

New Hampshire Public Radio | By Paul Cuno-Booth
Published September 16, 2022 at 4:13 PM EDT

Read the full article on NHPR

NH mobile vaccination van. NHPR photo.
Over 700 vaccination clinics were hosted and 37,000 doses were administered in NH through the program since July 2021.

You can find locations offering COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters near you at Updated boosters are available to people 12 or older who have been vaccinated, once two months have passed since their last COVID vaccine, booster shot or infection.

The state plans to re-launch its mobile vaccine van program next month. Officials say the four-vehicle fleet will help make COVID-19 boosters available to more people, amid an expected increase in cases this fall and winter.

“We think we should make vaccine as easily available in every nook and cranny around the state, and our mobile vaccine services help us,” Division of Public Health Director Patricia Tilley recently told lawmakers.

The state health department intends to have the vans running again from October to March. Three would be for pop-up clinics at community events, workplaces and other sites across New Hampshire. A fourth would make house calls to give shots to homebound people.

A previous mobile COVID-19 vaccination campaignended in June after administering close to 40,000 doses over the course of a year, according to state officials, while a separate service vaccinated more than 2,000 homebound people.

State and federal health officials are urging people to get boosted, noting protection from previous vaccination declines over time and the updated boosters target newer strains of the virus that have become dominant.

“These updated booster doses more closely align to the new COVID-19 Omicron variant,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said in a news release Monday, calling them “the most effective way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”

The updated boosters have started arriving in New Hampshire over the past two weeks and are available at many pharmacies, as well as through some health care providers.

Tilley said the state’s mobile vaccine program can reach people who have difficulty getting to those spots. For instance, the vans can hold pop-up clinics at work sites for employees with challenging schedules. She said the state is trying to “ensure that there’s equitable distribution everywhere, instead of just leaving it to the free market on its own.”

The rollout of new boosters comes as much of the responsibility for COVID-19 vaccinationhas shifted from the public sector to the private health care system. Meanwhile, additional federal funding for vaccines, tests and other public-health measuresremains in doubt. Earlier this month, the government stoppedsending free COVID-19 tests to households that requested them, citing Congress’ failure to provide more money.

Anne Sosin, a policy fellow at Dartmouth College’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, worries that shift will disproportionately impact rural areas, communities of color, the uninsured and others who tend to face more barriers accessing health care.

Earlier in the pandemic, she said, intensive public-health campaigns in some places narrowed racial disparities in vaccination and brought shots closer to people in sparsely populated areas with few health care providers. She fears that pulling back from such efforts will leave those communities less protected against future waves of the virus.

“We see that there are gaps in booster coverage across communities, and also there are disparities in access to testing and treatment,” Sosin said. “And all of these things are going to shape uneven outcomes moving forward.”

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services plans to pay for the mobile vaccination program with $6 million in federal money from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. Lawmakers approved the request last week.

The state health department said in its proposal to lawmakers that without the money, the state’s “limited public health infrastructure” would struggle to efficiently distribute vaccines or deal with a potential fall surge of cases. The federal government has given no indication it plans to send more money to the states this fall, it added.

Officials say they plan to bring a contract before the Executive Council for approval later this month. The vans will be operated by a private vendor.

Scottlyn Schuler, who oversees the COVID-19 response for the Strafford County and Seacoast public health networkssaid demand is another big question. Only about half of vaccinated people nationallyhave received a booster shot, with many sayingthey doubt boosters’ effectiveness or feel protected enough from past vaccination or infection.

Schuler would like to see a bigger push from public officials and other leaders to communicate thebenefits of boosters.

“It’s important that the message goes beyond, ‘Hey, this is where you can get your vaccine,’ ” she said. “The message also needs to be why the vaccine is important to get, why the boosters are important to get. You know, these variants continue to change. Immunity wanes.”

It remains to be seen whether a fall surge in COVID cases leads to a spike in demand for boosters. That’s what happened last year, Schuler said — and, as of now, there isn’t funding for the public health system to respond to something like that.

“The private health system is really going to have to be able to take this on,” she said, “plus a little bit that the state’s doing in trying to use [mobile vaccine services] to get out and hopefully assist in … some targeted areas.”

You can find locations offering COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters near you at Updated boosters are available to people 12 or older who have been vaccinated, once two months have passed since their last COVID vaccine, booster shot or infection.

Monkeypox vaccines are now available to more people in N.H.

New Hampshire Public Radio | By Paul Cuno-Booth
Published September 20, 2022
Testing capacity for monkeypox is being rapidly expanded.
Testing capacity for monkeypox is being rapidly expanded.

More people are now eligible to get the monkeypox vaccine in New Hampshire, after the state updated its eligibility guidelines.

The latest guidance, released to health care providers on Friday,allows doctors to recommend the vaccine for any patients they believe are at risk of infection. It also makes the vaccine available to any men who have sex with men and consider themselves at risk.

As before, the state continues to recommend vaccination for anyone who was recently exposed to the virus.

With plenty of vaccines on hand — and relatively few people getting shots — the state decided to expand access, said Laura Montenegro, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. She said this gives providers more flexibility to make their own call to give the vaccine to someone who might be at risk.

“We’ve heard about some situations where a person may be at risk, but didn’t fall within the previous criteria,” Montenegro said in an email Monday.

New Hampshire now has more than 5,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine available. But only 295 shots had been administered as of last Tuesday, the most recent data available from the CDC.

The new guidelines replace a narrower set of criteria, which had limited pre-exposure vaccination to certain subsets of men who have sex with men.

Scottlyn Schuler, the emerging infectious disease coordinator for the Strafford County and Seacoast public health networks, welcomed the broadened eligibility. She said the previous guidance was “too tight and stigmatizing” and that may have discouraged vaccination.

Dr. Bobby Kelly, a family medicine doctor at Core Physicians who leads its LGBTQ Health Program, said he doesn’t know how many people who wanted the vaccine were barred from getting it under the old guidance.

But he thinks opening up eligibility “will do wonders for decreasing the stigma” around a disease that, he said, many people falsely believe affects only the LGBTQ community.

“I also think that it is an excellent move to allow people to self-identify as being at risk for [monkeypox], and decoupling sex, sexual orientation and gender identity from the eligibility criteria for receiving the vaccine,” he said in an email. “Hopefully, as people assess their own risk moving forward, there will be fewer barriers in place.”

This reflects the latest information on local monkeypox vaccine clinics as of Sept. 19.

Health officials say that while monkeypox has spread primarily among men who have sex with men, anyone can get it. The virus can spread through close physical contact or contact with surfaces, objects or fabrics that an infected person has used.

The updated guidance came on the same day that the state health department announced New Hampshire’s first known pediatric case of monkeypox. In a news release Friday evening, the department said a child in Manchester became infected after a household member came down with the illness.

The release described the child’s symptoms as mild and the risk to the general school population and community as low. Contact tracing was underway to identify and vaccinate people who may have been exposed.

It’s rare for children to catch the disease, but not unheard-of. Nationwide, at least 27 cases of monkeypox have been identified among children 15 or younger, out of the more than 23,000 known cases in the country, according to the CDC.

New Hampshire makes the monkeypox vaccine available to people who live, work or have a primary care provider in the state. The vaccineis offered at 13 ConvenientMD clinics around the state, as well as Coos Family Health in Berlin, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, Keady Family Practice in Claremont, White Mountain Community Health in Conway and the Manchester Health Department. The Nashua Health Department offers vaccines to uninsured and underinsured people in the greater Nashua area.

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