Current state statute mandates that all children residing in the state be immunized against diphtheria, mumps, pertussis, poliomyelitis, rubella, rubeola, and tetanus. (Getty Images)
New Hampshire Democratic lawmakers are pushing to add COVID-19 vaccines to the list of immunizations required for all children – provided the vaccines become approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In a bill set to be introduced in 2022, eight Democrats, led by newly converted member Rep. William Marsh, aim to add COVID-19 vaccines to the current requirements.
State statute mandates that all children residing in New Hampshire be immunized against diphtheria, mumps, pertussis, poliomyelitis, rubella, rubeola, and tetanus. Children are not allowed to be admitted to public or private schools or child care centers unless they can demonstrate that they have received an immunization or partial immunization, or that they qualify for an exemption, according to RSA 141-C:20-a.
The existing statute allows children to be exempted from the vaccine only if a physician certifies that it would be detrimental to their health, or if their parent or guardian objects because of religious beliefs.
Marsh’s proposed bill would add COVID-19 to the list. And it would expand the definition of “school” to include colleges and universities, extending the existing vaccine mandate.
“No virus in the history of mankind has ever been brought under control without vaccine mandates,” said Marsh, a retired physician, in an interview Monday.
Under Marsh’s proposed bill, the mandate for children would not apply to all COVID-19 vaccines; it “shall only apply to individuals whose age exceeds the minimum for a vaccine fully approved by the FDA, and not just available under emergency use authorization,” according to a copy of a first draft shared with the Bulletin.
“We’re not forcing anyone to have experimental vaccines,” Marsh said.
The FDA has not formally approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children under 16, but it has given emergency authorization for children 12-15. Medical experts recommend children 12-15 get the shot.
Marsh, a Brookfield representative who last week converted from a Republican to a Democrat after criticizing Republican House leadership for its opposition to vaccine and mask mandates, said he would introduce the bill to the Health and Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee in January.
But the proposal comes at a time of deep division around vaccine mandates and skepticism among Republicans specifically, who currently control the House and Senate.
Some Republican House members have indicated they want to push the state’s child vaccination laws in the other direction; several bill requests filed last week would prohibit COVID-19 vaccination requirements and broaden the exceptions available to parents.
In that environment, Marsh said he didn’t expect the bill to receive support in the Health and Human Services committee. But he said he would put his hopes into winning support for the effort on the House floor, even if the committee recommended the bill be killed.
A series of Democratic wins in House special elections have narrowed the Republican majority in the House – which started in January as the slimmest of either party’s hold over the chamber in several decades.
“I fully expect this bill to be [recommended “inexpedient to legislate”] by the stacked HHSEA committee,” Marsh said. “Then it comes to the House floor, and I intend to flip it on the House floor.”
It is unclear whether support exists for a COVID-19 school vaccine mandate in the New Hampshire Senate – or in the governor’s office. Speaking to reporters Sept. 15, Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, did not explicitly endorse a vaccine mandate for COVID-19, but suggested the Legislature might support it in the future.
“If the New Hampshire Legislature says, ‘You know, we’re gonna mandate the COVID vaccine for school,’ they have every right to do so,” he said. “I imagine that’ll probably happen at some point.”
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