Health care providers urge acceptance of COVID-19 vaccine money

·3 min read

Nov. 18—CONCORD — Health care professionals put pressure on legislative leaders in advance of the last vote needed Friday for the state of New Hampshire to accept $22.5 million in federal immunization contracts to support administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, president-elect of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, appeared in the latest, state-run commercials promoting the COVID-19 vaccine.

"There has been a lot of discussion about freedom, freedom of choice. I want to say as a physician and as our medical community that we need to provide freedom of choice and access on all sides," Ramas said during an online press conference sponsored by New Futures, an organization offering support to battle substance abuse.

The grant request comes to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee nine days after the Republican-led Executive Council reversed itself and supported the grant.

In so doing, the councilors attached a non-binding resolution that was hostile to the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The council's earlier rejection made New Hampshire the only state in the country to have turned down immunization grant money.

Gov. Chris Sununu worked with councilors on the language of the anti-vaccine mandate resolution that was critical to the council accepting the grant on a 4-0 vote.

Republican legislative leaders haven't commented on the matter since the council voted to reverse itself.

Dr. Eric Shessler, president of the N.H. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the initial rejection of the grant meant the state could not support vaccine access for children ages 5-11 after the Biden administration approved them two weeks ago.

"The state assisted with what they could, but there was significantly less state response because we didn't have access to the resources that other states had," Shessler said.

Petitions against funding presented

Andrew Manuse, chairman of Rebuild NH, urged the legislative panel to reject the grant. He charged much of the money would go to help vaccinate children who he said were not at grave risk from the virus.

The anti-vaccine mandate group delivered to the fiscal committee the first batch of the 2,400 names on petitions opposed to this funding.

"We've been clear from the beginning that New Hampshire does not need graft money to produce political propaganda attempting to coerce people to be vaccinated who don't want to be vaccinated," Manuse said.

"It's not the state's role to act as the marketing arm of Big Pharma."

But Robert MacLeod, chief executive officer of the Mid-State Health Center in Plymouth, said the grant dollars would help the state do a better job expanding the delivery of vaccines, especially for lower-income families and minority groups.

"Dispel the myth. People who want vaccines can't get it. We need to do more," MacLeod said.

This latest request also included the hiring of 13 full-time and temporary staffers to provide support for the state's immunization registry over the next few years.

This grant would come from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

The council's resolution stated the "governor and council" support changing that registry to an "opt-in system."

Currently, parents have to affirmatively opt out of having their family's vaccine records on the registry.

Republican lawmakers have already proposed 2022 legislation to make that change.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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