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New Hampshire health leaders meet to discuss bills they say run counter to public health

N.H. State House dome.
Dan Tuohy / NHPR

The N.H. Legislature convenes its 2022 session on Jan. 5.

On the eve of this year's legislative session, New Hampshire health leaders met Tuesday to discuss bills that they say run counter to public health.

Bills ahead of the legislature feel especially targeted this year, said Mary Bidgood-Wilson, former executive director of the New Hampshire Nurse Practitioners Association.

“This is a significant increase in the attack on public health,” she said.

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Many of the bills that have New Hampshire public health leaders most concerned center around vaccination. While some specifically target COVID-19 vaccination, others are more broad.

One Republican-led bill aims to change New Hampshire’sImmunization Information System, a new statewide vaccine database, from the current “opt-out system” to an “opt-in system.” The difference may sound subtle, but Jane Goodman, public health network strategist with Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services, says it could “erect barriers for providers and patients.”

For the Immunization Information System to be an effective public health tool, one that allows health departments like Goodman’s to target vaccination outreach efforts to communities with lower immunization rates, widespread participation will be key. Measures that would drive participation down, Goodman says, would weaken the ability of nurses and doctors to keep Granite Staters up to date on routine vaccinations.

Another bill would make it much easier for parents to have their kids exempted from vaccination against diseases like tetanus or measles needed for school. The new bill would allow families to object "as a matter of conscience.”

Families would no longer need to get a physician to sign off for a medical exemption.

“These vaccination requirements are very important tools for maintaining high vaccination coverage in low rates of vaccine preventable diseases,” said Paula MacKinnon, president of the New Hampshire School Nurses Association.

There are other bills that, if passed, would do the opposite of bills like that one, and actually strengthen some vaccine requirements, like making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for schools.

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