As we move into a second pandemic winter, this time we are tackling the more highly infectious and fast-spreading Delta variant, in combination with the continued school season and lack of mitigation measures that we had in place this time last year. This leaves our communities, particularly the under-vaccinated populations, extremely susceptible to viral spread that is putting unprecedented stress on our health care providers – and resources we need to deal with the onslaught of demand.
Eerily empty waiting rooms in spring 2020, due to people’s fear of contracting COVID-19, have rebounded into a flooding of our state’s health care system with patients whose diseases have tragically advanced from delaying care. Now is the time for an all-hands-on-deck effort from Granite Staters to “take one for the team” and tame the spread: The COVID-19 vaccine is free and is still our first and most effective line of defense.
Amoskeag Health is a Federally Qualified Health Center with five sites in Manchester. To protect the safety and well-being of our 14,163 patients and 190 dedicated employees, we have implemented a mandatory vaccine policy for staff, and we deliver a diverse array of vaccine opportunities to break down barriers and improve convenience for our community members to get vaccinated, including doing outreach to our diverse patient population who speak 62 different languages and hosting clinics with language interpreters onsite.
Our role as an FQHC is keeping vulnerable populations healthy, and by doing so, we keep patients with non-life-threatening illnesses out of hospitals. This is not possible, however, without a healthy workforce who feels safe coming to work. What most people do not see or experience firsthand is the physical and emotional toll it takes in caring for so many gravely ill COVID-19 patients, when life-saving vaccines are free and widely available.
We are thrilled that, since the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids was approved last week, Amoskeag Health can immunize patients 5 to 11: This is our perfect opportunity to rein in this virus. As we write this, in the last week cases in New Hampshire have sharply risen to 4,850, and 32 people have died, the highest number of individuals lost since February. The most substantial rates of COVID-19 statewide are in unvaccinated children, particularly in 5-11- and 12–15-year-olds, whose rate of infection is greater now than during last winter’s surge.
Across the country, 805 children under 18 years old have died, and 140,000 children have experienced the death of a primary caregiver due to COVID-19 or other pandemic-related causes, putting them at risk of heart problems, decreased life spans, and trauma comparable to losing a parent in war. This is yet another heartbreaking effect of COVID-19 that many children have to bear.
Study after study, consistent with data that is collected by the State of New Hampshire, tells the remarkable story that about 90% of hospitalizations and deaths are in those not fully vaccinated. Pfizer’s data showed very positive results in the 5 to 11 age group and extremely high neutralizing antibodies, similar to those who received the adult dose. Granite Staters are in a good place to be able to lower transmission within our schools, prevent transmission to vulnerable family members, and achieve enhanced social interactions and uninterrupted school years, by protecting 5-11 year olds against this vicious yet vaccine-preventable illness and its emerging variants. Let’s give ending this pandemic all our might.
Gavin Muir, Chief Medical Officer, Family Practice, Obstetrical Medicine
Lisa A DiBrigida, Associate Medical Director, Pediatrics
Kristin Schmidt, Family Medicine
Laura Fry, Family Practice/Obstetrical Medicine