In the early days of the COVID-19 vaccine, New Hampshire had bragging rights at or near the top of the state rankings. When the issue was the ability to distribute a limited supply of vaccines, the Granite State did great.
But now the shot is available in nearly every pharmacy and grocery store, the state’s standing has fallen. New Hampshire is no longer in the top 10 for the percentage of the population who’ve gotten vaxxed. And among the six New England states, it ranks dead last.
What changed? Democrats blame Gov. Chris Sununu, even suggesting he put his opportunity to be on TV ahead of effective vaccine strategy. But the data point to a different culprit.
The Centers for Disease Control recently listed New Hampshire as 14th in the country for the percentage of residents who have been vaccinated, dropping the Granite State out of the top 10 and putting it well behind the other New England states which lead the country in vaccine rates.
In New Hampshire, 67.2 percent of the population has gotten at least one shot, and 59.8 percent are fully vaccinated. According to The New York Times’ tracking, that ranks the Granite State at number 15 in the nation for one shot and 11th for full vaccinations.
It didn’t take Democrats long to blame Sununu for the dropping vaccine ranking.
“The Sununu administration’s vaccination campaign isn’t working and it’s alarming to watch our state fall further and further behind as the Delta variant surges,” said NHDP Chair Ray Buckley. “New Hampshire needs a plan to increase vaccinations now, and it’s clear Sununu doesn’t have one.”
Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt points out that, despite the drop, New Hampshire is still running ahead of 39 other states when it comes to vaccine administration.
“New Hampshire was, and remains one of the top states in administering vaccine doses,” Vihstadt said.
Still, Democrats say, Sununu could have done more. He refused to follow the example of states like Ohio that held a $1 million lottery for vaccine recipients, or places like Erie County, New York, where a microbrew gave out free beer. Sununu has been openly dismissive of such efforts.
In Massachusetts and Vermont, both states with Republican governors, some form of vaccine mandates have been put into place for some healthcare workers and others who interact with vulnerable people. Sununu signed a law that bans government entities, like school districts, from mandating the vaccine for employees.
Massachusetts is reporting 65 percent of its population with at least one shot, and 71 percent with full immunity. Vermont has got 86 percent of the population to get at least one dose, and 76.9 percent of Vermonters are fully vaccinated — the highest numbers in the nation.
Sununu is planning a new round of commercials and PSA’s to get the word out on the vaccine, Vihstadt said, and mobile vaccine vans will start going to communities in the state where the vaccine rate is below 50 percent, though there are still no fun and games in store in exchange for getting the shot.
Democrats are criticizing the PSA’s, mostly for the fact that they might feature Sununu, who they fear is going to run for Senate against Maggie Hassan. The state’s Executive Council recently approved more PSAs to help encourage vaccines, though Democratic Councilor Cinde Warmington voted against the campaign.
Whether or not Sununu shows up in a vaccine ad campaign or not, there are different reasons New Hampshire residents are not getting the shot. While vaccine hesitancy has been shifting over the past several months, it is still a factor.
According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington, New Hampshire started the year with about 40 percent of survey respondents expressing some hesitancy to getting the shots. This data captured the mood of the state as vaccines were first introduced in January.
That hesitancy has dropped to around 5 percent in most locations, according to the study. But the percentage of unvaccinated Granite Staters remains around 30 percent. And the sad fact is, there may be little that Gov. Sununu or any politician can do about it.
New Hampshire’s early performance was aided by demographics. The state is older, it’s affluent and it’s disproportionally college educated. Members of those groups tended to flock in for their chance to get the shot.
But there’s also a segment of the population that’s more rural and blue collar. And that group, along with Black and Hispanic Americans, have tended to be the most reluctant to get a shot. Available research shows there’s little that can be done to persuade them.
“People are complicated, and their reasons for not getting the vaccine are personal,” says a report on reaching the unvaccinated from MIT. “Respect those reasons and you might have a more productive conversation.” Several sources quote a report finding that about 14 percent of adults aren’t likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine under any circumstances.
Among White Americans, Republicans — and Republican women in particular — remain the largest source of vaccine opposition. Among Democrats, around 86 percent of adults have been vaccinated, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, but just 52 percent of Republicans have done so. And New Hampshire is one of the most Republican states in New England.
And while their numbers are relatively small in New Hampshire, Black and Hispanic Americans have among the lowest vaccination rates in the nation.
“The vaccination rate for Black people is less than 50 percent in 38 of 42 reporting states, including seven states where less than a third of Black people have received one or more doses,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Similarly, less than half of Hispanic people have received a COVID-19 vaccine dose in 32 of 40 reporting states, including nine states where less than a third have received at least one dose,” according to a recent report.
COVID infections have disproportionately impacted minorities in New Hampshire, with Hispanics making up close to 7.5 percent of all cases, despite being less than 4 percent of the population. African Americans, who make up 1.4 percent of the population, account for 2 percent of infections. New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services identified the racial disparities last year and is working to address it, according to Vihstadt.
But how to address those who simply won’t get vaccinated? More TV ads, with or without Sununu, aren’t likely to make a significant difference.