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N.H. Executive Council will vote on vaccine contracts at state police training site

Dan Tuohy
New Hampshire Public Radio

The Executive Council has chosen a secure location for its first gathering since protestors shut down a meeting over federal contracts that Gov. Chris Sununu and state health officials say are needed to bolster local COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

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The council will meet this Wednesday at the state Police Standards and Training Council in Concord. Ben Vihstadt, a spokesman for the governor, said the location was chosen “due to its accessibility, security, and venue size, allowing for public access while also ensuring a safe and orderly democratic process.”

The two federal contracts worth $27 million items that sparked protest two weeks ago are on the agenda again.

Among other measures, the contracts would allow the state to hire 13 temporary workers for vaccination outreach. The Sununu administration says the additional staff will help the state lift its vaccination rate, the lowest in New England.

But opponents to state vaccine policy say taking the federal money isn’t necessary and could obligate New Hampshire to follow or enforce federal COVID-19 guidance, including vaccine mandates and quarantine policies. Attorney General John Formella issued a memo last week which concluded such concerns are unfounded.

“There would be strong legal grounds to challenge any directive or guidance that created broadly sweeping new and different conditions, such as a vaccine mandate or quarantine provision,” Formella wrote. Critics of the state’s vaccination policy, however, say they are unconvinced.

“By no means should we be giving $27 million to this unprofessional and scientifically debased Department of Health and Human Services to spend on God knows what,” said Andrew Manuse, chairman of Rebuild NH, a group fighting state COVID-19 policies.

The immediate question for Sununu heading into Wednesday’s meeting is: Can he get a majority of the GOP-majority council to back the contracts?

Some councilors are on record opposing the contracts, but others have been more circumspect. All are being inundated with calls and emails from activists leery of vaccine mandates. And while anti-vaccine activists are planning to again rally outside this week’s council meeting, calls for orderly behavior are conspicuous.

“We want everyone to show up in their Sunday best tomorrow -- If you have a suit and tie, if you are a nurse and you have your scrubs,” Terese Grinnell, who led protest at the last council meeting, advised in in an audio post on the social media site, Telegram. “We want to look like a bunch of professionals standing up for our constitutional rights.”

Other outspoken opponents to the contracts, including Manuse, are urging allies to skip in-person protests entirely.

But even if the contracts win council support tomorrow, this fight will continue.

To take effect, the contracts will also need the support of the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee. When it next meets on October 22, it will be under new leadership.

Kearsarge Rep. Karen Umberger was named the committee chair last week. She took over from Rep. Ken Weyler, a loud critic of these contracts, who lost his post leading the committee last week after spreading conspiracy theories about COVID-19.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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