COVID-19 Equity Task Force Addresses Vaccine Equity

by Joan Ascheim, former NHPHA Executive Director

The New Hampshire COVID-19 Equity Task Force continues to meet every two weeks, and we want to keep you up-to-date on activities. The task force is convened as a partnership of NHPHA and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Office of Health Equity and Division of Public Health Services. The task force is a collective of close to 60 individuals and organizations across NH representing multiple sectors and communities that have come together to address issues of equity arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and response.

On December 11, 2020, Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) staff Kirsten Durzy, Taylor Selembo, Megan Denublia, and Nia Smart, who are all also task force members, shared the current allocation plan for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Of particular interest and importance to the task force is the care that was taken to center the plan using an equitable framework. Also key is that the plan is guided by the principles of fairness and transparency and is evidence-based.

The plan consists of four phases with phase 1a—the “jump-start” phase centered on high-risk health care workers, first responders, and older adults living in long-term care facilities. This phase in already in process and has been highlighted in the media. Phase 1b includes people with underlying conditions that put them at significant risk and older adults living in congregate or overcrowding living conditions. Phase 2 broadens the groups to include teachers, individuals with disabilities, others working in high-risk settings, older adults, and more. Phase 3 includes children, young adults, and those working in settings with increased risk of exposure. Phase 4 moves on to the general public.

Throughout the plan a percentage of vaccines will be set aside for those disproportionately affected based on geography, the Social Vulnerability Index, or another index.

The DPHS team sought input from the task force on the plan and elicited concerns and comments. Much of the concern focused on communities of color who have a warranted skepticism around vaccines due to historical unethical governmental medical practices.

Task force members shared myths and concerns they have heard from their communities. There was a desire among participants to learn more and obtain talking points about the vaccines so that they, as trusted public health and community leaders, can educate their colleagues, friends, and community members with facts in plain language about the various vaccines.

In response, the vaccine team from DPHS will be organizing a training session for task force members and will continue to attend task force meetings to provide up-to-date information on vaccine allocation and distribution.

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