Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health announces first COVID vaccinations

NASHUA – “Hope is on the horizon,” Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health’s president and CEO Joanne M. Conroy said.

“The vaccine has been delivered to New Hampshire hospital facilities last week and on Dec. 17, we started vaccinating our first frontline providers,” she stated. “This is incredibly exciting.”

More than 12,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinen arrived in the state on Monday, Dec. 14.

The vaccines must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

“This is really the path forward,” Conroy said of the vaccines, “to creating a level immunity so many of us can return to our normal activities.”

Conroy said she was “personally thrilled” after looking at the scientific evidence and the efficacy and the safety of the vaccines.

According to the New Hampshire ​Department of Health and Human Services officials, 12,675 doses of vaccine will be available for immediate distribution to at-risk health workers, including front-line clinical staff providing direct patient care.

Conroy stated that it won’t be long before people with high-risk conditions in the community are inoculated.

“Eventually, everyone will have access to be vaccinated,” she continued. “What this means is that once we have a certain percentage of people who are vaccinated in the community, it stops the spread of the disease. So this is that path to emerge to a normal life.”

Daily life won’t return to a complete normal in the immediate future, and N.H. residents will still have to follow safety guidelines such as wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large crowds.

“Some of the things that we’ve had to do during the pandemic are not bad habits to continue,” Conroy said. “Being very thoughtful about wearing a mask if you have a cold is something that all of us should do because the flu will be here for years.”

She added that diligent hand washing and social distancing continue to help the spread of the disease while vaccines are being administered in phases.

“I want to caution people that during the time period that we’re achieving immunity, people must continue to wear masks,” Conroy said. “You’re wearing them to protect the community and everyone that you love.”

As the first round of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was given to frontline health care workers in the Granite State and across the country, D-HH hosted the first of a two-part virtual webinar focused on the technology, safety, and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and the state’s and DH-H’s distribution and allocation plans.

The first webinar was moderated by vice chair for education in the separtment of anesthesiology and the co-medical director of the surgical ICU Laura Chiang, MD.

“The creation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in nine months is an astounding achievement and a testament to the collaborative work between scientists and the medical community around the world. These vaccines offer promise in a very challenging time,” she said. “However, the vaccines can only be truly effective if widely adopted. It’s essential, that the medical community and the public be presented with the science behind these vaccines from nationally and locally-renowned leaders. I am hopeful that a discussion that also includes the rigors of testing will encourage individuals to feel comfortable about being vaccinated. D-HH is proud to offer this educational opportunity to better inform our staff and the greater community.”

The first webinar held on Friday, Dec 18, featured speaker Kathryn Stephenson, MD, MPH, director of the clinical trials unit at the Harvard Center for Virology and Vaccine Research and an infectious disease physician, who discussed the biologic basis of COVID-19 vaccine development, as well as the clinical trials process. She also addressed concerns about the rigors of testing and the likelihood of sustained immunity in addition to concerns about complications.

The second webinar is on Monday, December 21, and will feature DHMC infectious disease physician Elizabeth Talbot, MD, who also serves as the state of New Hampshire’s deputy epidemiologist, and Michael Calderwood, MD, MPH, associate chief quality officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.