Inaccurate Data and Failed Vaccination Campaign Are Latest Examples of the Sununu Administration...
With COVID-19 cases up and hospitalizations high, Governor Chris Sununu’s response to the pandemic continues to be marked by gross incompetence. According to reports from the past week, the Sununu administration has failed to keep accurate COVID-19 data and its taxpayer-funded vaccination PSA campaign has done little to get more Granite Staters vaccinated. And it is now being reported that Sununu once again plans to divert federal money to ads featuring him, even though his own Health officials say the ads are ineffective.
INACCURATE DATA: NHPR reported that New Hampshire’s COVID vaccination data has been inaccurate for months, and the state’s tracking system for new daily COVID cases stopped working altogether last week. According to NHPR, “new daily infections may appear to be falling, health officials say that’s actually not the case; they estimate the state continues to see over 500 daily new cases of the virus.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE’S VACCINATION RATE FALLING BEHIND: Garry Rayno from InDepthNH wrote that, “Before the system failed, it was evident New Hampshire is falling behind other states in a number of areas [...] The state is dead last in the Northeast for vaccinated residents and despite the surge in the highly infectious Delta strain, few if any statewide restrictions remain from a year ago.”
A FAILED VACCINATION CAMPAIGN, PART 1: Yesterday, New Hampshire Bulletin reported that there is little evidence that the Sununu administration’s controversial taxpayer-funded vaccination social media ad campaign has done anything to get more Granite Staters vaccinated.
A FAILED VACCINATION CAMPAIGN, PART 2: WMUR’s John DiStaso reported that as Chris Sununu plots a potential campaign for U.S. Senate, he’s promoting himself in another round of COVID PSA ads after his own administration admitted that previous ads featuring him were largely ineffective in increasing vaccinations.
Earlier the summer, Sununu told WMUR that “the state government’s role in this pandemic is over.” In recent weeks, it’s clear that Sununu was right — the state has abdicated leadership when it comes to fighting COVID-19 and Granite Staters are paying the price. Read more coverage below:
New Hampshire health officials say they are currently unable to accurately measure either the state’s current COVID-19 vaccination rate or new cases of the virus, two of the most important data points in the fight against the pandemic.
New Hampshire’s COVID-19 vaccine data has not been exact for months, due to what officials describe as technical challenges in the state’s immunization information system.
New Hampshire’s Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette explained on Oct. 27 that the problem began back in the summer when the state lost the ability to migrate data about new vaccinations from pharmacies, which provide a large portion of the state’s COVID-19 vaccinations.
Over the summer, the gap in vaccinations as reported by the state and the CDC grew to a discrepancy of more than 200,000 first doses. The state health department’s data is currently showing 60 percent of the total population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, while the CDC puts that same figure at 75 percent.
NHPR reported on the gap during the summer, but at the time, the state did not respond to multiple requests about what was driving the disparity.
Shibinette said until the issue is fixed, the CDC data is a more accurate measure of vaccination in the state. She said funding to fix the issue and improve the state's immunization system was in a $27 million contract that was rejected by the state’s Republican-majority Executive Council earlier this month.
Another key measure of the impact of COVID-19 in the state is also not currently reliable. New Hampshire’s tracking system for new daily COVID cases also stopped working in late October, and as staff continues to sort through a backlog of data, case numbers on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard report state data are inaccurate, health officials say. Daily updates do include accurate numbers for COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths but are still missing case counts.
While new daily infections may appear to be falling, health officials say that’s actually not the case; they estimate the state continues to see over 500 daily new cases of the virus, where things have stood for the past month.
The failure of the state’s COVID-19 infection tracking system could not have happened at a worse time.
State health officials have not released new data on the number of daily infections in a week, and have not updated the maps showing the number of active infections in each community or in the schools and colleges around the state.
Before the system failed, it was evident New Hampshire is falling behind other states in a number of areas, but hard to prove without numbers.
The state is dead last in the Northeast for vaccinated residents and despite the surge in the highly infectious Delta strain, few if any statewide restrictions remain from a year ago.
According to the available data on the state website, the number of new infections hit 736 on Oct. 15. That compares to more than 1,100 infections a day last December.
But 736 is a far cry from the 11 daily infections the state reported on July 24.
Earlier this month, New Hampshire and Vermont led the nation in the percentage increase in the number of new infections over the previous week. Northern New England has been hard hit by the latest surge of infections and has not slowed down like much of the rest of the country.
Before the system went down, the number of active cases in New Hampshire and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 were approaching levels not seen since the height of the pandemic last winter.
And the number of deaths was also increasing and most were not nursing home residents as they were during last winter’s worst period.
Areas of the state that had mostly escaped the virus’s reach last winter, like the North Country, are now experiencing some of the highest percentage of infected residents in the Granite State.
Earlier in the surge, about 90 percent of the hospitalizations were unvaccinated individuals, but the percent of breakthrough cases has been creeping up including at long-term care facilities.
The accuracy of the state data for schools has been a concern for some time, as the numbers did not correspond to what school officials told parents.
The situation is not good with restaurants closing due to exposures and hospital ICUs filling with COVID patients leaving people with other afflictions waiting for care.
The governor’s recent response was to begin holding weekly press conferences to talk about the pandemic.
In his five years in office, Sununu has shown a real aptitude for self-promotion — look at his twitter feed — and the press conferences are a great stage for that.
But much more than press conferences and lawsuits to block the Biden administration’s vaccination mandates the state joined Friday are needed if the state is going to seriously start corralling the virus that has infected about 10 percent of the state’s residents.
Oct. 30—STATE HEALTH OFFICIALS said last week that the federal government, not New Hampshire, has the most accurate data on who has been vaccinated for COVID-19.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said that since the state ended its own vaccination sites last June, many vaccinations are directly reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and not necessarily to the state.
One reason for the lag is the federal government's vaccine program doesn't allow for an opt-out on the vaccine, while state law requires an opt-out option, she said. A solution lies in the state installing what Shibinette referred to as an "HL7 Connection," which would allow the state's new vaccination registry to dovetail with the federal system.
The $27 million immunization contract with the CDC that the Executive Council rejected Oct. 13 would have provided the money to make that connection, as well as create a dozen full-time temporary jobs in the Division of Public Health Services.
In mid-October, the Manchester marketing firm awarded nearly $1.3 million by the state to boost New Hampshire’s vaccination numbers sent the state a performance report of the newest social media campaign: Ads had 619,736 “impressions” and 1,231 “clicks” on Facebook and Instagram in the first week.
The problem, experts say, is impressions are meaningless because they count how often an ad appears on someone’s feed, not how often someone stops and looks at it. And it’s unclear, they said, whether the click count matters either because the firm didn’t say in its report whether it had measured a single ad click, which lands someone on vaccines.nh.gov, the state’s vaccine homepage, or the next three clicks needed to reach a list of vaccination locations, or the two to three more clicks required to book an appointment.
In other words, there is nothing in that mid-October report, which the Bulletin obtained through a right-to-know request to the state, to indicate whether the nearly $27,000 it’s spending this month on Facebook and Instagram ads alone is on track to achieve the goal: getting more people vaccinated. And nothing GYK Antler provided in that performance summary shows whether the firm has assessed the campaign’s effectiveness or the possibility that a different approach with different messaging would be more effective.
That matters because this is a high-stakes effort to make the state safer as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging and the vaccination rate lags at 54.7 percent.
If GYK Antler is tracking clicks all the way to appointment bookings, it didn’t say so in its report to the state. Nor has it provided that evidence in two right-to-know requests filed in May and August. And neither GYK Antler nor Health and Human Services have returned multiple messages since August.
Health and Human Services hired GYK Antler, which has done marketing work for the state before, for this campaign without putting the job out to bid.
Based on the right-to-know documents provided by state, it’s unclear how GYK Antler and state officials in the governor’s office determined the promotion’s messaging or its messengers: New England Patriots player Chase Winovich for most ads and comedian Seth Meyers, raised in New Hampshire, for one. Emails provided by Health and Human Services show U.S. District Court Judge Joe LaPlante, who sits in New Hampshire, and Bedford businessman Bill Grenier suggested a different comedian and several pro athletes with New Hampshire ties. They had been part of a group seeking to help the state stand up large vaccination sites early into the pandemic.
She raised objections to political figures being in the ads and their designation as having political content. Warmington also said studies have shown that approach to be ineffective and asked Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette to commit to not including political figures in the future.
Health and Human Services did not provide any evidence at the council meeting or in the right-to-know responses that those 74,584 clicks to vaccines.nh.gov led to more vaccinations. A look at the progress of the vaccination rate during the campaign’s three-month first phase does not provide clear evidence either. The rate of fully vaccinated people had been climbing steadily and significantly since January, when the vaccine first became available, and continued that way during the first month of that campaign. But the rate began lagging in late June, remained stalled during the next two months of the campaign, and has lagged since.
The approach was far different from what the state Division of Public Health Services proposed from its own research in May, just as the GYK Antler ads began to appear. Its plan, which was also obtained through a right-to know-request, focused on persuading the “vaccine ambivalent” with messages from parents and medical providers talking about the vaccine’s safety and its role in