Vaccine access bills leave House panels deadlocked

Mar. 13—CONCORD — Two different House committees were unable to reach agreement Monday regarding controversial bills that would govern access to vaccines.

The full House of Representatives later this month will have to decide on its own without any recommendation on whether to outlaw vaccine clinics in public schools during class time (HB 539) or to give the Legislature complete control over rules regarding immunizations (HB 537).

House Deputy Majority Leader Jim Kofalt, R-Wilton, said vaccine clinics in Nashua and Rochester last year gave shots to children over the objection of two parents.

His proposal would prevent clinics during school or up to two hours after schools close each day.

"The idea is to make sure these children don't get swept up in these clinics," said Rep. Mike Belcher, R-Wakefield.

But Rep. Patricia Cornell, D-Manchester, said individual school boards should decide the proper course.

"I think it's horrible two children were vaccinated by mistake and there could be more controls put in so that never happens again," Cornell began.

"If Manchester wants to have vaccine clinics, that should be its decision."

The House Education Committee voted along party lines, 10-10, all Republicans backing the bill and all Democrats against it.

Hours earlier Monday, the vaccine rules bill met the same fate.

The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee tied, 10-10, on whether to take from the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to write vaccine rules.

Kofalt also authored this bill to put the Legislature in charge of the topic.

"I am not an anti-vaxxer, but I know there are a lot of them," said Rep. Mark McLean, R-Manchester. "My solution is to be more transparent, and I think this is an excellent bill."

Some supporters said during COVID-19 the guidance from health care experts changed and left many in the public lacking faith in the science.

But Rep. Joseph Schapiro, D-Keene, said it would be wrong to let elected politicians make these decisions.

I would want this to be kept in the hands of professionals with oversight by the Legislature," Schapiro said.

The House health panel did come to bipartisan agreement on a vaccine bill (HB 408) that would permit children living in a foster home to claim the same exemptions from getting a vaccine that parents of all other children can claim in New Hampshire.

The panel endorsed it 20-0.

State health officials said lawmakers should study further whether this bill could be in conflict with federal laws regarding foster care.