Commentary: Anti-public health bills threaten New Hampshire’s present, future
The program was years in the making and was added to the budget at the last minute by Senate Republicans over the objections of House Republicans. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)
This week, as the New Hampshire Legislature gathers to open the 2022 session, lawmakers will have to navigate not only the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to ravage our state, but also an unprecedented assault on New Hampshire’s public health system.
This session, more than 30 pieces of legislation have been introduced that, if passed into law, would undermine our public health infrastructure like never before. Together, these bills, which propose to weaken our highly effective childhood vaccine program and diminish our data collection systems, among other harmful efforts, would deeply impair our ability not only to overcome COVID-19, but to prevent and address public health crises into the future.
Here is a rundown of some of the damaging bills that will be considered this session:
- House Bill 255, relative to prohibiting vaccine mandates by New Hampshire employers: This bill, which was held over from the 2021 session, now proposes to allow any individual to request a conscientious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. If passed, this legislation would tie the hands of businesses, schools, and other organizations, and limit their ability to adopt and enforce vaccine policies recommended by public health experts. State government should not prevent hospitals, schools, or any other organization from protecting the health and safety of their staff and community.
- House Bill 1210, relative to exemptions from vaccine mandates: As proposed, this bill would require all private employers and colleges and universities to grant requests for a conscientious exemption from employees or students for all vaccines. Further, it would prohibit an employer from requiring vaccines or any medical treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only for emergency or experimental use. These provisions would prevent businesses, hospitals, and other entities from requiring its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and other diseases, including influenza (flu), hepatitis, measles, and other deadly conditions. This would not only put individual workers at risk, but could increase exposure and risk to seniors, children, and other vulnerable populations.
- House Bill 1035, relative to exemptions from school vaccine mandates: This legislation would allow families to opt out of school vaccine requirements for philosophical reasons. Early childhood immunizations have been shown to be safe and cost-effective tools for protecting infants and children from potentially life-threatening, preventable diseases. Current law allows for medical and religious exemptions for students, but a philosophical exemption, as proposed in this bill, could open the door for many more families to send their children to school unvaccinated and at risk for spreading COVID-19, influenza (flu), hepatitis, measles, and many other deadly diseases.
- House Bill 1606, making the state vaccine registry an opt-in program: This bill proposes to weaken New Hampshire’s vaccine registry, a critical tool in increasing vaccination rates and combating infectious disease, by forcing individuals to opt-in to the program rather than allowing them to opt-out, as is the case under current law. Currently, individuals can choose at any time not to participate in the registry, a secure and confidential database that helps to monitor community immunization rates and identify coverage gaps. By shifting the program to “opt-in” participation, however, this bill would create new barriers to participation, limiting the data available, and leaving the state without a critical tool to inform its public health response.
Separately and together, these bills, along with dozens of others proposed this session, represent a significant threat to the health and wellness of New Hampshire families, communities, and businesses. If passed, these proposed policies will deprive us of resources we need to finally overcome COVID-19, and leave us more vulnerable to future public health emergencies.
Last week, New Hampshire reported 8,147 active COVID cases, with 386 people hospitalized for the disease. In total, nearly 200,000 Granite Staters have been diagnosed with COVID (196,656 as of Dec. 30), and nearly 2,000 have died from the disease. Our hospitals are overwhelmed and receiving reinforcements from the National Guard. Now, more than ever, is the time to strengthen our public health system, not decimate it.
Vaccines are one of our safest and most effective tools for stopping the spread of preventable illness, including COVID-19 and diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza, and measles. Few medical interventions compete with vaccines for their cumulative impact on health and well-being of entire populations.
As the legislative session begins, please join us in encouraging New Hampshire lawmakers to support the health and wellness of all Granite Staters by rejecting these harmful bills. The future of our state depends on it. To learn more and join us in taking action, please visit https://new-futures.org/vaccines.
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