For one person who registered on Friday for a COVID-19 vaccine, the shot means that she can stop worrying about the virus making her seriously ill. For another, it’s hope that life will return to normal. For a third, the vaccine means that he might be able to see his beloved again.
While the vaccines were made available to first responders and health care workers in the final days of 2020, Jan. 22 was the first day that any New Hampshire resident 65 or older could register for vaccination. More than 140,000 state residents signed up to be inoculated against the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 2 million people around the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Friday morning was the beginning of the state’s “1B” phase of the vaccine rollout. Residents of the proper age range could register online at www.vaccines.nh.gov, or via telephone by dialing 2-1-1. Vaccinations for the 1B phase are expected to start on Jan. 26, though, with limited supplies of the shots it could take several weeks to inoculate all who register.
Those who signed up were told to expect an email within five days containing their appointment
Beverly MacQuarrie of Tilton signed up Friday morning. She said she logged on at 8:10 a.m., ten minutes after the site started accepting registrations. She was concerned that the volume of traffic would swamp the system, but found that it all worked fine for her.
“It loaded right up, there was any number of questions. It was a little confusing in places, but I worked my way through,” MacQuarrie said.
MacQuarrie’s daughter, a health care worker, was already vaccinated and had “no ill effects,” so she said she wasn’t concerned about any side effects. At 73, though, she is worried about the virus.
“I am very concerned because of my age, that’s why I registered right away,” MacQuarrie said.
Laconia resident Warren Bailey, who said, “I’m in my sixties,” waited until about 20 minutes after 8 a.m. before he tried to register online.
“I figured, let’s give this thing a shot,” Bailey said. “I was anticipating the website to be overloaded. I gave it the 20 minutes, logged on, got right on. It was a piece of cake.”
Bailey said he was “very impressed” with the registration process. “I’m looking forward to getting the vaccine. That’s the only way we’re going to see this thing go away. I know there are people who are reluctant. I can certainly understand that. You weigh your pros and cons, I think the pros of getting the vaccine far outweigh the cons. I don’t think I’m going to wake up with two heads.”
While the disease has proven most dangerous to the elderly, Bailey noted that it can be serious for people of any age. He’s looking forward to a future when the precautions that people have been following for months won’t be necessary.
“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life walking around with the mask on,” Bailey said. “Thank God we have the vaccine, we’re doing our part to try to get as much back to normal as we can. It’s affected everyone’s life in one way or another… I live by science. If the experts say it’s safe, I’m all in.”
While MacQuarrie and Bailey’s experience was easier than they expected, Walter Atherton, who lives in Tilton, said it took him several hours to register on Friday. He bounced back and forth between the website and the hotline, finding frustration with each, until he finally dialed 2-1-1 and a person answered the phone – though hundreds of volunteers and National Guard troops were staffing the call center, Governor Chris Sununu said they were overwhelmed by callers until around noon.
“I finally got through after four hours,” Atherton said. “I’m not real savvy with internet stuff, but I did get through on the phone.
“I probably did something wrong… I’m not the smartest turnip in the garden.”
Despite his frustration, Atherton stuck with the task. His motivation for doing so is named Jeannette.
“My wife is in a nursing home and I’m here all by myself. I haven’t seen her in 10 months.” Atherton said he hopes that, once he is fully vaccinated, he might be able to visit Jeannette again. Since the pandemic reached New Hampshire, he has only been able to see her through an exterior window of the nursing home.
“We can’t really communicate, but we can look at each other,” Atherton said. “It’s bad enough that she’s in there. At least I could go in and see her, touch her. March was the last time I saw her in person. It’s not an easy time.”
Atherton, 76, said he has been heeding the government’s guidelines to prevent spread of the disease. He hasn’t left the house except to get essential supplies, and when he does so, he wears a face mask and keeps his distance from others. But, he said, he doesn’t worry about getting sick.
“I don’t really think about it. When they get ready to take me, they’re going to take me whether I’m ready or not,” he said.
John Beland, emergency preparedness coordinator at the Partnership for Public Health, said that he had heard from several people that registering on Friday was a breeze – and also from people who had a frustrating experience.
“I’ve heard from other people who had to wait a significant amount of time,” Beland said, encouraging those who were frustrated to stick with it. “It’s patience, patience, patience.”
Once they’ve registered, they should expect the state to reply to them within five days telling them when their vaccine is scheduled to be delivered. The vaccinations will take place at 13 “fixed sites” operated around the state by the National Guard, such as one at Lakes Region Community College.
In addition to the logistical challenge of acquiring and distributing vaccines for everyone in the state, Beland said there’s an additional challenge of convincing people to agree to take the vaccine.
“One of the things we’re battling with is vaccine hesitancy,” Beland said, encouraging anyone with concerns to visit cdc.gov, or ask their primary care provider.