The Bulletin Board

Crowd turns against Republican lawmakers during rally opposing vaccine mandates

By: - September 14, 2021 3:32 pm
A woman standing near American flags, her back to the camera, yells at a lawmaker during a rally in front of the State House

Nurse Terese Grinnell told Rep. Bob Greene, a Hudson Republican, a vaccine mandate for health care workers will cause a health care workforce shortage because so many workers will leave their jobs. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

This story was updated September 14, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. to the correct the spelling of Terese Grinnell’s name.

Republican House members and a large crowd outside the State House Tuesday agreed in their opposition to the Biden administration’s new vaccine mandates. But the crowd made clear they think lawmakers and Gov. Chris Sununu are doing far too little to stop the mandates.

Meanwhile, one Republican House member made equally clear he thinks the Republican lawmakers, led by House Speaker Sherman Packard, have gone too far. Following the rally, Rep. Bill Marsh of Wolfeboro announced he had switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

“I cannot stand idly by while extremists reject the reasonable precautions of vaccinations and masks which made (the state’s ability to reopen) happen,” he said in a written statement that also noted the Supreme Court’s recent order upholding the constitutionality of mandated COVID-19 vaccines. “And so, I have reluctantly changed my party affiliation. I urge others to consider what is happening and come to their own conclusions.”

House leadership announced the press conference Monday in response to the Biden administration’s recent order mandating COVID-19 vaccines for federal workers, Medicare- and Medicaid-certified health care agencies, and employers with 100 or more workers. Groups that have opposed Sununu’s pandemic response rallied supporters to the event.

Protesters hold signs during an anti-vaccine mandate rally
A press conference organized by House leadership Monday opposed to the Biden administration’s new vaccine mandates drew a large crowd Tuesday. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Their signs protesting vaccine mandates echoed the protests of the many House Republicans in attendance. But they came wanting more than lawmakers’ statements of opposition to the vaccine; they wanted to hear lawmakers’ plans, and were unsatisfied when they were told to contact the federal delegation with concerns and vote them out of office.

“We’re trying to help you,” Packard told the crowd. “That’s why we’re here today. We’re trying to help you, but you need to help yourselves. You need to get a hold of the federal delegation, and you need to tell them that they have to stop this in Washington.” He added: “You’re yelling at the wrong people.”

At one point, several people in the crowd turned their backs on lawmakers at the podium. “We want action. We’re tired of just words,” they shouted. Another person yelled “Do your job!” Some faulted Sununu, who issued a statement Monday opposing the vaccine mandate but was not at the press conference, saying the governor is a “RINO,” short for “Republican in name only.” 

Terese Grinnell, who said she is a nurse who works with critically ill patients but declined to say where, interrupted the press conference, pleading with lawmakers to protect her colleagues from mandates.

She said mandating health care workers to get the vaccine will cause a workforce shortage when health care workers quit their jobs. Earlier in the rally, Grinnell said mandating a vaccine that she sees as experimental violates informed consent regulations. (There is no federal informed consent requirement for vaccines.)

“The risk that I’m going to lose my job is not consent,” she said. 

Midway through the press conference, Rep. Fred Doucette, a Salem Republican, tried to calm the crowd, saying: “Listen guys, we’re on the same page here. We’re on the same team.” 

Following the event, Packard declined to say if House Republicans are drafting specific legislation opposing the mandate but said he expects someone will. Asked what actions the House Republicans are considering, Packard said they’ve talked about a lawsuit but have not decided. “This isn’t something that you just snap your fingers and all of a sudden it happens,” he said. “We are looking at any avenue we may have as a Legislature. I think (a lawsuit) is going to have to come from the governor.”

Asked for Sununu’s response, his office referred the Bulletin to the statement he issued Monday, opposing the vaccine requirement.

“Instead of working collaboratively with governors across America to increase the vaccination rate, President Biden skips our weekly calls and issues overreaching mandates from Washington,” Sununu said in the statement. “I am working directly with my fellow governors to see how best we can push back against this federal overreach. I am as pro-vaccine as it gets, but I do not support this mandate from Washington as it is not the answer.”

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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]