Sununu Administration Responsible for New Hampshire’s Low Vaccination Rate and Inaccurate Data
After reporting 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, NHPR released a new report today that shows that Governor Sununu’s administration is responsible for New Hampshire’s low vaccination rate and inaccurate COVID vaccination data.
The Sununu administration’s detrimental policies — like ending the State of Emergency, their onerous bureaucratic paper requirements, and the underfunded vaccine registry system — have resulted in his administration “missing thousands of doses” which “could take months” to correct. Without accurate COVID vaccination data from Governor Sununu’s administration, individuals, schools, and businesses can’t make informed decisions about how to stay safe during the pandemic which could put economic recovery further out of reach for Granite Staters.
By Alli Fam
New Hampshire’s inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine data is now likely leading to inaccurate counting of booster doses and breakthrough cases. The state’s vaccination data hasn’t been correct since June.
In a new interview with Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette, NHPR confirmed the state of New Hampshire has been relying on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data because the state’s own records are missing thousands of doses. The state’s data correction process could take months, Shibinette said.
But the commissioner also thinks the CDC’s data is becoming increasingly inaccurate. She thinks many booster doses are likely being tracked incorrectly as first shots, which could cause artificial inflation of the state’s first shot administration rate.
A separate system crash at the end of October meant the state was also unable to report how many new cases of the virus were cropping up during that time, or accurately map rates of community transmission.
With COVID-19 data a driving force behind state policy, vaccination campaigns and individual risk assessment for New Hampshire residents and local officials, inaccurate data means unreliable decisions.
As of Oct. 21, the most recent data NHPR had on file from before the state disclosed its vaccine errors, state data showed 832,500 Granite Staters had received at least one dose of the vaccine, while the CDC put the same measurement at over 1,000,000. Translated into percentages, the state was reporting around 60 percent of Granite Staters with at least one shot, compared to the CDC's 74 percent.
The widening gap in vaccine data between the two entities is partially due to the conclusion of the state of emergency in New Hampshire on June 11 and the earlier introduction of a new, underfunded vaccine registry system, the New Hampshire Immunization Information System, (NHIIS).
Commissioner Shibinette said the state could no longer collect COVID-19 vaccine data for individuals who had not been presented with the ability to opt-out of having that information collected by the state of New Hampshire, as required by state law.
Pharmacies, which are federal providers of vaccines, don’t need to provide an opt-out option when reporting data to the federal government, which means the state can no longer import that pharmacy data into NHIIS.
Missing pharmacy data is especially consequential because pharmacies like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens are some of the largest COVID-19 vaccine providers in the state.
NHPR reported on the growing gap between state and federal vaccine data during the summer. At the time, the state did not respond to multiple requests for comment about what was driving the disparity.
When asked why officials did not publicly share that their own data was growing increasingly inaccurate until late October, over four months after the state of emergency ended, Commissioner Shibinette said “we had to dive down and figure out where the gap was growing.”
But the discrepancy had been present since June. In the statement given to NHPR, Sununu’s office didn’t address the delay in the statement.
Nor did state officials clearly flag that the COVID vaccine data it released may have been unreliable. Even NHPR’s reporting from this time was based on this data, which we now know to be incomplete.
New Hampshire was the last state in the country to implement a statewide, centralized immunization registry. That means working with pharmacies on efforts like an opt-out option or with the CDC on large-scale vaccine tracking are still new, and issues are emerging in real time.
Just 1.6 percent of fully-vaccinated Granite Staters have received a booster dose, according to the CDC’s map. That rate makes New Hampshire the worst state in the country for booster administration.
The combination of high rates of first dose uptake contrasting with what providers across the state are seeing and a strikingly low booster rate suggests thousands of booster shots in New Hampshire may be getting tracked by the CDC as first doses.
Breakthrough case data is also difficult to track in circumstances where the individual was vaccinated after the state of emergency ended, because of the state’s reliance on the CDC’s data.
Inaccurate information isn’t the only penalty New Hampshire is experiencing due to a lack of an immunization registry. Earlier this year, the state relied on a glitchy, federal system to schedule appointments for older residents.
Many health providers in the state say NHIIS is time-consuming and complicated. They have to manually enter their own data collection into the system. For some smaller doctor's offices, the paperwork burden is part of the reason they aren’t offering COVID-19 vaccines in their practices.