Medical intervention committee meeting draws dozens, most opposed to vaccines or mandates

By: - November 8, 2021 6:07 pm
People hold signs in support of the vaccine

Drs. Lyn Lindpaintner and Randy Hayes, both retired physicians, hold signs in support of the vaccine and science near the State House on Monday. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The number of empty seats in the “mask required” section was a good indication of where the testimony was headed at Monday’s legislative meeting on medical intervention: Just a few seats were taken.

Nearly 60 people turned out for a public input session before the Committee to Examine the Policy of Medical Intervention Including Immunization, almost all of them there to oppose COVID-19 vaccines or mandates. The committee’s charge is broad – from looking at laws on involuntary emergency admissions and medical treatment of someone in custody, to childhood immunizations and a guardian’s medical decision-making. But the focus was on COVID-19, which Chairman Timothy Lang said will be the subject of 32 bills next session. 

Most of the nearly 30 people who asked to testify voiced objections, calling mandates a violation of constitutional, religious, and medical rights. Some warned that “coercion” by mandate will lead to resignations and a worse workforce shortage. 

“The Constitution guarantees all people the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said Janice Desmaris, a former critical care nurse. “Taking a person’s job who will not consent to an experimental injection is a violation of the Constitution, making it illegal. Sovereignty over one’s own body is the highest priority.” 

A woman holds a sign protesting vaccine mandates
A woman protesting vaccine mandates holds a sign near the State House on Saturday. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Over the last year, the public disagreements around COVID-19 have largely focused on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine; unfounded claims about the associated health risks; and mistrust in the drug manufacturers and government. As the federal deadline nears for health care workers, federal contractors, and large employers to be vaccinated, objections to the mandate have grown louder. 

Hundreds turned out for a “medical freedom” march in Concord last month. And on Saturday, dozens of anti-mandate protesters gathered in Concord again, holding American flags and signs. One woman held a sign that read “Anti-Mandate, Not Anti-Vaxxer,” on the front. The back said, “They tried scaring you, bribing you, guilting you, shaming you, blaming you. Now they fire you.” 

They denounced President Joe Biden for backing vaccine mandates and, in some cases, Gov. Chris Sununu too for not doing more to stop them. (Sununu has supported the attorney general’s decision to sign on to federal lawsuits challenging mandates for federal contractors and private employers.)

Dr. David Strang, an emergency medicine specialist from the Lakes Region, faulted Concord Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock for implementing their own vaccine mandates ahead of the federal mandate. 

“As physicians, we advise our patients that they have a right to consent or not consent,” he said. “If we mandate in defiance of individual choice and freedom, then we have destroyed the doctor-patient relationship.” 

Strang continued, challenging the need for medical and religious exemptions from a mandate. “We already have an exemption,” he said. “That is, we are Americans. We have the God-given right to say no.”

Deborah Richardson, an Air Force veteran and nurse with a home health care and hospice agency, was hospitalized last year with COVID-19. After her discharge, Richardson opted not to get the vaccine because she was worried about side effects. She continued to refuse a vaccine after it was mandated for health care workers. She told the committee that when her religious exemption was denied and her argument that natural immunity was sufficient protection failed, she was terminated. 

“To make people decide on their own health care versus taking this vaccine, is just not life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness,” Richardson said. “It goes against everything I volunteered to go into the Air Force for.”

While a few people spoke in favor of the vaccine mandate during the meeting in the State House, several mandate supporters gathered outside it, ahead of the meeting, holding signs that read, “Trust Science” and “Vaccines Save Lives.”

Dr. Randy Hayes, a retired family medicine doctor, was among them. “What really bothers me the most is that a vocal minority seems to be putting a priority on personal choice and freedom without acknowledging the equally compelling value of the common good,” he said. “And when people do that in the public health sphere to build their political careers, it is very threatening and very destructive.” 

He objects, he said, to the characterization of a mandate as federal overreach. “Well,” he said, “750,000 people dead (from COVID19 nationally) is overreach.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]