The full House is scheduled to vote on the pared back version of the bill Wednesday. (Getty Images | Javier Zayas Photography)
The state Department of Health and Human Services wants to use $27 million in federal pandemic aid to create 13 new positions aimed at increasing the state’s vaccination rate, which has been lagging at about 54 percent since at least July.
The request, which goes before the Executive Council Wednesday and must clear the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, comes as recent poll results from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center show that one in five New Hampshire adults say they won’t get vaccinated.
Additionally, Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement Monday that he is pushing back on the Biden administration’s new vaccination mandates for federal workers and employers with 100 or more workers. House Speaker Sherman Packard, a Londonderry Republican, and House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, an Auburn Republican, are expected to echo that opposition at a press conference Tuesday.
The UNH survey center, in a poll conducted before the new federal mandates were announced, asked respondents about workplace mandates. A slight majority (53 percent) said they support them, but 38 percent of those who won’t get a vaccine said they would quit their jobs instead. Thirty percent were unsure what they’d do, according to the poll.
In addition to general oversight and outreach, the new hires would focus on increasing the vaccination rates among people disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and persuading the vaccine hesitant to get vaccinated, according to the proposed contracts. The state has launched a $1.3 million vaccination campaign but provided few details about it.
Tracy Keirns, assistant director for the UNH Survey Center, said Monday she isn’t convinced the vaccination rate can be increased significantly at this point. “It’s difficult to see that anything is really going to move these people,” she said. “I think we are talking about one or two cases here and there.”
Among the proposed new positions is a “public health program manager,” who would earn nearly $170,000 in salary and benefits over 36 months to oversee the state’s immunizations programs, including COVID-19 vaccine efforts. The other 12 new hires, who would also work 36 months, would promote the vaccine, oversee grants, and assist over 400 vaccine providers with a new process of reporting vaccinations to the vaccine registry, according to the proposed contract.
The funding will also cover costs of equipment and supplies.
Jake Leon, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the new positions are being proposed now because the federal money was only recently made available. The state no longer has the help of the New Hampshire National Guard and other state agencies to manage the vaccination effort, as it did when vaccines were first available, Leon said. Asked if the department believed the effort could meaningfully increase the vaccination rate, Leon said the department “wants to ensure that the vaccine is available today and in the future for people in New Hampshire.”
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