Push to get shots for out-of-state college students

Kevin Landrigan And Josie Albertson-Grove, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
·4 min read

Mar. 31—College students and their families are railing against the state's decision not to vaccinate college students from out of state, arguing that making them travel home for vaccinations is impractical and disruptive to their studies.

The governor's office continues to defend the policy, which they say prioritizes New Hampshire residents.

Meanwhile, colleges around the state have become hotspots of infection in recent weeks.

Ginny Walsh, a University of New Hampshire student, said many out-of-state students work in restaurants and retail stores and could further spread the virus in communities near campus if they don't get the vaccine.

"The more cases present in any given town makes it hard for the town's economy to get back to normal," Walsh said.

Hannah Dunleavy, a Dartmouth College student, said the policy makes no sense.

"The virus doesn't care if we live in New Hampshire nine months out of the year or year-round. This is reckless, and it puts lives at risk," Dunleavy said.

Last week, as students returned from spring break, Dartmouth College identified three new COVID-19 clusters. According to the college's COVID-19 data, there are now 35 active cases — the highest number since July.

Saint Anselm College reported 36 positive COVID-19 tests last week, the most so far this year, after 33 positives the week before.

People under age 30 account for more than a third of all New Hampshire's COVID-19 cases. Although people 20 to 29 have had the most positives of any age category, according to state data, people under 30 have accounted for just 3% of New Hampshire hospitalizations. Of 1,237 reported deaths in the state, only one has been a person under 30.

State Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, a gastroenterologist, said the state's massive vaccination effort has been inspiring, but he said it was "shocking and confusing" that out-of-state college students have not been included.

"The bottom line is this will make the COVID crisis worse in New Hampshire because any unvaccinated people pose a risk to all people, including themselves," Sherman said.

State Rep. Jeffrey Salloway, D-Lee, a retired epidemiologist, said the college towns of Hanover and Durham have some of the highest per-capita numbers of cases in the state.

"That is a reservoir of disease, and those reservoirs will only expand," said Salloway, in a video press conference sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

Sherman said it's unknown exactly how many out-of-state students are on New Hampshire campuses because Dartmouth College has been mainly remote and other campuses have limited in-person teaching.

Republican State Chairman Stephen Stepanek said New Hampshire's policy is in line with Vermont and Maine.

"NH is prioritizing residents over students, and it's time Senator Sherman side with his own constituents over Dartmouth College students who will go home to New York City in just a few short weeks," Stepanek said in a statement.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party disputed Sununu's claim that other New England states are withholding vaccines from college students.

"Connecticut is already vaccinating all college students, Massachusetts has an explicit policy of vaccinating Massachusetts students originally from out of state, Maine students from out-of-state will be eligible for vaccines in Maine, and Rhode Island expects to vaccinate all students regardless of residency status," the party said in a statement, linking to source material confirming its claims.

A small fraction

Sununu administration officials said college students make up less than 5% of the state's cases.

Last week, the governor noted all vaccine allotments given to states are based on the Census, which doesn't count out-of-state college students.

"If you're a resident of Colorado, but you're going to school here, no, you cannot get the vaccine," Sununu said at his weekly COVID-19 briefing. "You can go to Colorado and get the vaccine for Colorado residents, but you will not qualify for the vaccine here. This is for permanent New Hampshire residents."

Sununu said it's not practical to give out-of-state students their shots after all New Hampshire residents get theirs.

"If you were talking about an out-of-state college student, even if they were on the back end of that group, they wouldn't be getting their second shot into June, potentially, and they wouldn't be here, right, because schools and most colleges will end in May," Sununu said.

"It doesn't make much sense to offer it to out-of-state college students that are currently here. It just makes more sense for them to go back to their state, be part of their system, and get the vaccine while they're home."

Sherman agreed with Sununu about one thing: Regardless of what medical experts think, it's the governor's call.

"We do have an ethical obligation to advocate as strongly as we can," Sherman said, referring to all medical professionals.

"In a state of emergency, the final decision rests with the governor. So they could speak up, but in the end, it's his decision."

jgrove@unionleader.com

klandrigan@unionleader.com