The Bulletin Board

Rollout of booster shots skewing state’s data on first and second vaccine doses

By: - October 15, 2021 3:13 pm
A vial of covid vaccine

The “Booster Blitz” sites are in Berlin, Haverhill, Plymouth, Stratham, Keene, Claremont, North Conway, Laconia, Manchester, Milford, Concord, Hanover, Rochester, and Salem. (Getty Images)

The state’s daily report of first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses has been an important tool for assessing risk and targeting vaccine outreach. That count will become less accurate and perhaps less useful with the rollout of boosters.

The state knows some booster shots are being included in the state’s vaccination rate but not how many. And public health officials have it as first and second doses – not boosters – that must be prioritized and tracked to overcome the pandemic. 

“One of the big concerns that I’ve had is that there hasn’t been any real uptake in the vaccination since the end of June,” said Mindi Messmer, co-founder of N.H. Science and Public Health, which has been tracking the state’s vaccination program. (The fully vaccinated rate was 54.6 percent as of Thursday, the most recent data available.) “If the boosters are being incorporated into that number, those are the people who have been fully vaccinated. It’s not the hesitant people. There’s not going to be a clear understanding of how many people are actually vaccinated. It skews our understanding.”

The problem lies with those giving boosters, including pharmacies, because they are reporting all third doses to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but some are not reporting counts to the state, said state epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan. And unlike some states, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire’s COVID-19 dashboard does not break out the booster counts it does know about. 

“We’re having a little bit of difficulty nailing down exactly how many booster doses have been administered in New Hampshire,” Chan said.“… It’s something we’re actively trying to work on.”

The CDC communications office did not return a message. Its website tracks booster doses given in the United States (9.32 million as of Friday), but does not report that data at state, county, or local levels. 

Pfizer boosters became available in mid-August for those over 65, people at high risk, and those working in settings with more exposure to the virus who had received their second dose at least six months prior. More boosters are coming.

The Food and Drug Administration’s panel of expert advisers voted, 19-0, Thursday to recommend booster shots for the same population who received the Moderna vaccine. It did the same with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Friday for anyone over age 18 at least two months after their shot. 

A chart showing vaccination rates
(Source: N.H. Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 dashboard)

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.