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'You Don't Need a Vaccine' to Reopen Schools, Says Sununu

Picture of vaccine vial
Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Chris Sununu said New Hampshire schools should reopen, whether fully or in a hybrid system, regardless of whether teachers have been vaccinated.

At a press conference on Thursday, Sununu accused teachers’ unions of politicizing the vaccination process and defended the state’s decision to prioritize first responders and older residents over teachers.

“We're going to get our most vulnerable population vaccinated,” he said. “That's the key to making sure our health care system doesn't get overrun. We still may have very high numbers of COVID for a long time, but if the hospitalization and the mortality rate is down, that's the goal, and that’s how we start opening things up.”

New Hampshire is one of only a few states that haven’t followed CDC guidelines to prioritize teachers by vaccination phase 1B. This week, Sununu' s office received an email with over 10,000 signatures and a letter from over 300 teachers asking for teachers to be included in the phase that opens for registration this Friday. 

Sununu has advocated for months to reopen schools, pointing to the number of students struggling to learn at home, minimal COVID-19 transmission rates within schools, and successful models of reopening across the state.

Credit Graphics by Sara Plourde/NHPR

“Some schools and classrooms are at full capacity without any vaccine. They've been there since September; they're doing great," he said. "So it's been proven that you don't need a vaccine."

State data -albeit incomplete - shows that transmission of the virus within schools has remained low. However, many classrooms and schools are moving to remote instruction because of the number of teachers and students in quarantine after potential exposure to COVID-19 in the school or community.

Megan Tuttle, the president of the NEA-NH, the state’s largest teachers’ union, says vaccinating teachers would speed up reopening and improve teacher morale.

“I’m seriously concerned about what’s going to happen at the end of the school year and how many teachers are going to be leaving this profession, just because of the stress of the school year and everything that’s gone on,” she said.

Under the state’s current plan, K-12 teachers are slated to receive the vaccine starting in March.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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