Discrimination suit filed by White NH man claims he was denied COVID-19 shot over race

·3 min read

Sep. 28—A White New Hampshire man who claims he was refused a COVID-19 vaccine by the state earlier this year because he is not a person of color and did not meet its "equity" requirements has filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The complaint was filed Tuesday by attorneys with the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) and Boyden Gray & Associates on behalf of a 28-year-old man whose name is redacted in a copy of the complaint obtained by the New Hampshire Union Leader. According to the complaint, the man claims he was unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in April despite having diabetes and considered at "elevated medical risk to COVID-19."

When the man called the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley in Lebanon to arrange an appointment to receive a shot, he claims he was told they were "only serving people of color" at the time, operating under the state's equitable vaccine distribution policies.

The complaint says appointments at the vaccination clinic were reserved for people who identify as "Black, Indigenous or people of color," whether or not those individuals were considered to be at an elevated risk for severe COVID-19.

"No one seeking medical care should ever be sent to the back of the line because of their race, but that is exactly what the state of New Hampshire did with COVID-19 vaccinations. HHS must investigate and hold New Hampshire accountable for its blatantly illegal discrimination," stated Rachel Morrison, an attorney and policy analyst for EPPC's HHS Accountability Project.

Gov. Chris Sununu's office issued a statement Tuesday saying "everyone who wanted a vaccine could have gotten a vaccine, and this complaint is going nowhere."

"New Hampshire has been one of the most successful states in the nation at vaccine roll-out, and early on in the crisis was the fastest state in the nation for getting shots in arms quickly," said Sununu's office. "NH opened the vaccine to everyone on April 2, before nearly every other state."

The complaint says the federal government has granted New Hampshire more than half a billion dollars in COVID-19 relief funds, including $43 million specifically for vaccination efforts. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibit racial discrimination in federally-funded programs, and "Health and Human Services is therefore duty-bound to investigate this complaint."

Michael Buschbacher, an attorney at Boyden Gray & Associates, said New Hampshire's "racially discriminatory vaccination program is a disaster."

"The health officials responsible have done grave harm both to the vulnerable people forced to wait for a life-saving vaccine because of their skin color and to the practice of medicine," said Buschbacher. "New Hampshire's guilt is gin clear, and HHS needs to take prompt and aggressive action to ensure that such illegal discrimination never happens again."

The complaint seeks "a binding voluntary resolution agreement with all the guilty parties" through the Office of Civil Rights, including "appropriate remedial action, training, and ongoing monitoring of respondents by your office."

The complaint also includes a demand that HHS refrain from providing the state and public health council with funding until they issue a written guarantee they won't discriminate on the basis of race.

pfeely@unionleader.com

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