Sen. Kevin Avard, a Nashua Republican, was the only member of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to support House Bill 1210 Wednesday, which would add a “conscience” objection to vaccine mandates. The committee will ask the full Senate to send the bill to interim study. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted on two of the bigger COVID-19-related bills Wednesday, backing legislation to ease access to ivermectin and rejecting a new “conscience” objection exemption to vaccine mandates.
If House Bill 1022 succeeds as amended by the committee, for the next two years, pharmacists would be able to dispense ivermectin under a “standing order,” without needing a prescription from someone’s physician. The amendment, authored by Sen. Jeb Bradley, would also create a study commission to evaluate making the provision permanent.
Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said the compromise amendment balances the testimony of scores of medical experts who said no legitimate study has proven the merits of treating COVID-19 with ivermectin, and those disputing that claim and arguing for the right to make their own medical decisions.
Sen. Tom Sherman, a Rye Democrat and gastroenterologist who has prescribed ivermectin for parasites and diarrhea, made his objections clear Wednesday. He and Sen. Becky Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat, urged the committee to hold off on a standing order until a commission can study the idea. That was the process to make Narcan, birth control, and smoking cessation medications available by standing order.
“We have a tried and true process to look at the drugs people want to use because they believe they work,” Sherman said. “We are discarding all of that. From a medical background, I can’t think of a word that would capture how irresponsible this step would be.”
With Bradley’s amendment, the bill passed, 3-2, along party lines. It passed the House, 183-159, in March.
The committee voted, 4-1, to recommend the full Senate send House Bill 1210, which would expand vaccine mandate exemptions, to interim study.
The legislation, which passed the House, 181-155, in March, would require employers mandating vaccines to grant medical and religious exemptions in addition to a new exemption for those with a moral objection to the vaccine. Currently, employers are required to consider medical and religious exemptions, and can choose whether to accept them.
Opponents have warned lawmakers that passing the bill would put $2.3 billion in federal Medicaid and Medicare funding at risk annually because the federal government does not recognize a conscience objection.
Sen. Kevin Avard, a Nashua Republican, was alone in defending the bill, saying that financial risk is “holding (the state) hostage.”
The federal government is “basically dictating to us how we make policy,” he said, and “people should have rights over their own body.”
Bradley said he opposes workers being fired for refusing to comply with a vaccine mandate and urged employers to seriously consider requests for religious exemptions. But the financial risk was too great to support the bill, he said.
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