The Bulletin Board

Sununu signs ‘immunization freedom’ bill into law

By: - July 26, 2021 4:57 pm
A person gets a vaccine

New Hampshire is the only state to reject the funding, according to the state’s federal delegation. (Getty Images)

This story was updated June 26 at 8:30 p.m. to clarify that the state can continue mandating immunizations but has not added the COVID-19 vaccination to its required immunizations.

With less than 50 percent of the country fully vaccinated, California and New York City announced Monday that all public workers will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccination or face weekly COVID-19 tests. New Hampshire will not be joining them, at least not totally. 

On Friday, Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law the so-called “immunization freedom” bill that prohibits the state from denying people access to public spaces, public services, and public benefits if they are not immunized.

But House Bill 220 does allow the state and counties to require immunizations for anyone at the state hospital and county nursing homes, and any other medical facility they own. Schools and child care providers can still require vaccinations, as can private businesses for workers who may pose a threat to others, as long as employers offer exemptions or accommodations for religious beliefs and disabilities.

HB 220 also allows the state Department of Corrections to require prisoners to be immunized “when a direct threat exists.”

The use of “immunization,” however, is not necessarily synonymous with the COVID-19 vaccination, an important distinction that makes the reach of this law tricky. The state has not added the COVID-19 vaccination to its required vaccinations for attendance at public K-12 schools and colleges and universities, but some private colleges like Colby-Sawyer College and St. Anselm College have.

There was no legislation introduced this year to require COVID-19 vaccines or create a vaccine passport. Given that, the law is unlikely to change anything that is already allowed in the state. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures counted nearly 500 bills restricting vaccination requirements introduced in legislatures across the country. 

In its announcement Monday, New York City said all municipal employees, including police officers and teachers, will be required to get the vaccine. California is requiring it of all state employees and on-site public and private health care workers. 

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday announced all employees who provide direct patient care have eight weeks to be vaccinated or face penalties, including the loss of their jobs. It’s the first federal agency to adopt a vaccination requirement. 

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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.