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N.H. House committee takes up GOP bill to broaden exemptions for COVID vaccine

New Hampshire State House
Dan Tuohy
New Hampshire State House

Bills to broaden an individual’s power to opt out of vaccines, and to limit any entity that receives public funding from requiring COVID vaccines, were before the New Hampshire House Labor Committee Thursday.

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The most sweeping bill would direct private employers, colleges, and teaching hospitals to accept requests from workers or students to opt-out of COVID-19 vaccine mandates. It would also bar employers from requiring any medical treatment that only has FDA approval in cases of “emergency of experimental use.”

“We should not be forcing people to do a mandate of vaccination,” Rep. Tim Lang of Sanbornton told the committee. “And if we talk about COVID, we know that it’s not a curative vaccine. I think everybody agrees with that at this point. It is mitigating, and I agree with that, but it doesn’t solve the problem.”

Public health experts say vaccination is the best way to prevent COVID infections, severe illness and death from the coronavirus.

The bill, which Lang said permits businesses to work with employees to find reasonable accommodations if they decline a mandated vaccine, drew a non-committal response from the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association.

That group’s vice president, David Juvet, told the committee he was planning to oppose the bill but was willing to meet with Lang and business lawyers in an effort to gauge the effect of the bill as drafted, particularly its addition of a “right of conscious” as a reason to decline a vaccine, alongside existing exemption for medical or religious reasons.

“That’s my real concern,” Juvet said.

Several people representing the health care industry expressed deeper concerns.

“Hospitals have an inherent responsibility to protect the health and safety of their patients,” said Steve Ahnen of the New Hampshire Hospital Association. “The COVID vaccination is the most effective way we can do that.”

Kate Horgan, of the New Hampshire Association of Counties, warned lawmakers that the bill could put New Hampshire on a collision course with federal Medicaid laws. She said if the change ended up risking Medicaid payments to country nursing homes, it could be expensive.

“If the funds go away, you are probably looking at $100 million,” Horgan said. “Where are those funds going to come from?”

But vaccine-skeptical backers urged lawmakers to look past such concerns, In some cases insisting, contrary to evidence and recommendations of state and federal health authorities, that COVID vaccines are dangerous.

“People are dying from this vaccine,” said Ed Groves Jr. In fact, reports of deaths after COVID-19 vaccination areexceedingly rare, according to the CDC.

Groves told the committee he’d successfully treated his brush with the coronavirus with ivermectin, a treatment not endorsed by the CDC and labeled as potentially dangerous in large doses.

Authorizing pharmacists to dispense that drug without a prescription is the subject of a separate House bill.

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