By Christian Wade | The Center Square
Democratic lawmakers in New Hampshire are pushing for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public school and college students, but the measure faces an uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Legislation heard on Monday by the Committee on Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs would add COVID-19 vaccines to the list of required vaccinations for students to be admitted into K-12 schools as well as the state’s sprawling university and community college system.
Supporters of the measure said the goal is to ensure that public schools and colleges are safe for students and staff and prevent a return to remote learning if there’s another virus surge.
“We know historically that we have never controlled any viral disease disrupting our schools without a vaccine mandate,” Rep. William Marsh, D-Wolfeboro, a physician and primary sponsor of the bill, told the panel. “This bill is really important to keep our schools open and safe.”
Marsh said including colleges and universities in the mandate is important because many of them were “epicenters” for COVID-19 infections among young people in the state. He pointed out that most private universities in the state, including Dartmouth College, require COVID-19 vaccinations for incoming students.
The proposal specifies that the requirement would only apply to age groups that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is fully approved only for those 16 and older. The FDA has authorized emergency-use for children ages 5 to 15.
But the Democrat-backed measure faces strong opposition from the GOP-controlled Legislature and Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican who is opposed to vaccine mandates.
Marie Mercuri, immunization chief for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the Sununu administration is opposed to the bill and has no plans to require COVID-19 vaccinations for school students.
“The department seeks to appropriately balance individual and parental choice and the goal of keeping children enrolled in school while protecting the health of all children,” she told the committee in testimony. “The department has no intention of adding immunization requirements for COVID-19 at this time.”
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have filed their own proposal to require schools to accept medical, religious and conscientious objector exceptions for students who don’t get vaccinated.
Lawmakers are considering more than 30 bills in the upcoming legislative session dealing with vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions, including masking.
House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, has filed legislation to block the state or local governments from enforcing any vaccine mandates imposed by the federal government.
Currently, only four states – New York, California, Louisiana and Illinois – and Washington, D.C., have requirements for COVID-19 vaccinations for public school students, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. Several other states are considering proposals in the current legislative session.
New Hampshire already requires students to be inoculated for polio, diphtheria, mumps, pertussis, rubella and tetanus. There are religious and medical exemptions from the mandates.