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Ivermectin bill passes N.H. Senate while 'right of conscience' vaccine exemption stalls

Marc Nozell via Flickr CC

A GOP-led N.H. Senate voted 19-5 to scuttle a proposal prioritized by top House Republicans to require any employer or college receiving any public funding to allow workers or students to reject vaccine requirements as a matter of conscience.

Gov. Chris Sununu opposed the vaccine requirement bill which ran counter to federal Medicare and Medicaid guidelines. New Hampshire hospitals warned passing it would risk billions of dollars of federal funding.

“I don’t believe we should undermine health care for our senior citizens and people on Medicaid, I just don’t think we should do it,” Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro said.

But not every Republican agreed with Bradley’s assessment.

“What are we accomplishing other than submission?” said Nashua Senator Kevin Avard.

The Senate did pass a separate bill clarifying a vaccine exemption policy at state and country medical facilities.

As drafted, that bill would have created a right of conscience exemption for workers, which county officials warned could cost nursing homes federal funding.

But in its final form, which cleared the Senate by voice vote, the measure contained only exemptions for health and religious reasons.

The Senate also voted along party lines to make ivermectin, which is unapproved by the FDA as a COVID-19 treatment, available at pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription.

The debate had a more partisan cast than other matters related to COVID at the State House Thursday.

“There are people out there who swear by this drug, who will do anything to get it,” said Republican Senator Jim Gray of Rochester, who also called the drug “safe.”

Ivermectin is available in some countries over the counter, but the idea that using it without a prescription is safe was disputed by Sen Tom Sherman, a Democrat from Rye, who is a practicing gastroenterologist.

“No doctor in the state of New Hampshire, who is practicing clinical medicine in the appropriate field, would ever say this is a perfectly safe drug that is useful for COVID,” said Sherman, who is also running for governor of New Hampshire.

But the bill passed the Senate 14-10, along party lines.

For the bill to make it to Sununu’s desk, the House and Senate will have to reach an agreement on the final language. Under the Senate’s version of the bill, the standing order authorization would expire in two years, absent the approval of a study commission.

The Senate also added an informed consent provision that would force anyone receiving ivermectin to sign a form that says “there is no proven benefit to treating COVID-19 with ivermectin.”

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