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With New Law, N.H. Joins National Debate Around COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates

Nurses draw vaccine doses from a vial.
As the Delta variant continues to drive a rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, states are diverging on their approaches in regards to vaccination and other public health measures.

Editors Note: The story has been corrected to reflect how the law interacts with pre-existing legislation for school admission.

Gov. Chris Sununu signed a law that says a COVID-19 vaccine cannot be required for New Hampshire residents to access public facilities, benefits or services.

The law does not supersede state law regarding other vaccinations as a prerequisite for admission to school or apply to nursing homes. It comes in the midst of a national debate on combating the spread of COVID-19 amid the growing proliferation of the Delta variant.

“We see the country really diverging on steps that states are taking, both in regards to vaccination, and in the institution of other public health measures” says Anne Sosin, a policy fellow studying health equity at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College.

States like New York and California have announced they will require state employees and all health care workers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or get tested weekly. But in other states like Florida, the governor suspended local emergency orders and has prohibited government offices from issuing any "standardized documentation" certifying that an individual has been immunized against COVID-19.

New Hampshire falls somewhere in the middle of those sides. But the state is aligning itself with states taking more restrictive vaccine mandates, Sosin says.

Supporters of the new law say it maintains medical freedom, but Sosin is skeptical of that argument’s benefit for the health of communities around the state.

“The notion of medical freedom is inconsistent with the fundamentals of public health,” she says. “Our health is interconnected, we live in communities, we work in shared settings, we live in households with other people.”