Health and business leaders strongly oppose the expanded vaccine exemptions. (iStock | Getty Images)
This story was updated Jan. 5, 2022 at 4 p.m. to correct the number of hospitalized patients.
Beginning Thursday, anyone visiting the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester will need to show proof they’ve had a COVID-19 vaccination. A few have criticized the policy on Twitter, calling for an end to the museum’s public funding.
Gripes won’t change the policy, said Steve Duprey, president of the museum’s board of trustees.
“The Currier made the decision that we think is in the best interest of our staff, our members, and our visitors,” he said. “While we respect anyone’s right to disagree, they are free not to visit the Currier.”
But House Bill 1490 would change the policy – by prohibiting public accommodations, including restaurants, hotels, and museums, from denying anyone entry based on their vaccination status.
It’s one of more than 30 vaccine-related bills going before lawmakers this year – and it’s one reason why more than 50 business leaders, health care institutions, and advocacy groups have joined forces to create the Healthy 603 Coalition.
Citing a need for “well-informed” public health and vaccination policy, the group will lobby lawmakers with “fact-based” information on bills related to COVID-19 health measures. Those include House Bill 1035, which makes it easier for parents to exempt their child from all mandated vaccines like those for polio, measles, and mumps. Another, House Bill 1022, seeks a standing order allowing pharmacists to prescribe ivermectin and prohibiting them from discouraging patients against using it for COVID-19. (The Food and Drug Administration has not approved ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19.)
The list includes many of the state’s hospitals, health care providers, and health insurance companies; museums – including the Currier; and the Business and Industry Association, which represents more than 400 businesses.
“There are a number of bills that clearly target public health and the health and safety protections many of us believe are so important to protect the health of children and adults and places of business,” said Steve Ahnen, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Hospital Association.
“There is certainly a sizable number of bills that caused us great concern,” he said.
While the group announced its formation Tuesday, it began reaching out to lawmakers three weeks ago, ahead of the legislative session, which began Wednesday. In their announcement, the group cited record-high cases and an overwhelming number of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in ICUs across the state.
As of Tuesday, the most recent data available, there were 518 people hospitalized with active COVID-19 infections (381) or who were no longer infectious but still in need of hospital-level care (137).
During debate on last year’s vaccine-related legislation, lawmakers most often voiced one of two reasons for opposing vaccine requirements: a belief the vaccine doesn’t work or isn’t needed and the right of individuals – not the government or private businesses – to decide whether to be vaccinated.
The latter has been the Business and Industry Association’s main concern. “We are proud to support this effort to protect businesses’ right to determine their own policies when it comes to protecting the health and safety of their employees and customers,” said Dave Juvet, vice president of public policy, in a statement.
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