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N.H. joins lawsuit against the federal government over contractor vaccine mandate

N.H. Attorney General John Formella speaking to the Executive Council on Oct. 27, 2021.
Dan Tuohy
N.H. Attorney General John Formella speaking to the Executive Council on Oct. 27, 2021.

New Hampshire has joined nine other Republican-led states in a lawsuit against the federal government for imposing a vaccine mandate on federal contractors and federally contracted employees.

Gov. Chris Sununu and top Republican lawmakers had promised to fight federal vaccine mandates ever since President Biden announced in September. The mandate would force businesses with over 100 employees to require their workers get vaccinated or undergo a weekly testing regime.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, seeks to block the forced COVID-19 vaccination for all employees of federal contractors.

“President Biden has arrogated to the Executive Branch the unilateral power to mandate that all employees of federal contractors be vaccinated,” the complaint reads. “This power grab is sweeping in its scope.”

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella called COVID-19 vaccines “safe and effective” and said every eligible person in the state is encouraged to get one.

“That said, the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine do not justify violating the law. This lawsuit is being filed to protect the State of New Hampshire from the federal government’s attempt to impose illegal mandates,” Formella said.

The suit comes as New Hampshire’s vaccination rate is stalled at the lowest in the region. COVID-cases are rising, as are hospitalizations from the coronavirus and the politics of vaccination is roiling the State House.

Last week University of New Hampshire President James Dean announced that all university employees, including student workers, would need to get vaccinated to comply with the contractor mandate.

Anti-vaccine protestors shut down a recent meeting of the Executive Council where federal vaccine money was on table.

Hundreds more protesters turned out earlier this month, and a few were arrested, during a meeting when the GOP-majority Executive Council turned away $27 million in vaccine funding provided by the Centers for Disease Control, against the wishes of Sununu, over concerns that it would require New Hampshire to enforce federal policies around COVID vaccine mandates and quarantines.

Sununu derided such concerns as “fantasy.” They were also counter to a legal memo Formella supplied the Executive Council.

The Council has since approved $4.7 million in vaccine funding, but the state’s top health official, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette, has said the rejection of the larger grant will slow New Hampshire’s effort to vaccinate children aged 5 to 11 when they become eligible for shots next month.

This is a developing story and this post will be updated later Friday.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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