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Parents, doctors debate bill that would mandate COVID-19 in schools

  • The statue of President Franklin Pierce on the State House on Monday eveing, March 23, 2020 during the late winter storm.

Monitor staff
Published: 2/8/2022 1:07:17 PM
Modified: 2/8/2022 1:05:36 PM

In early January, Republican legislators proposed a bill that would prevent schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccines. On Monday, a Democrat-sponsored bill to do theopposite and require students to get the vaccine in order to attend classes was heard by a House committee.

Nurses, doctors, parents, and government officials convened to discuss HB1633, which would require COVID-19 vaccines for K-12 and university students in New Hampshire. The bill was co-sponsored by every doctor serving in the legislature. The requirement only applies to the age groups that have been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which currently includes those older than 16.

“We know they’re suffering this year as massive absenteeism among both students and staff is again disrupting their education,” said Dr. William Marsh, the bill’s primary sponsor. “We know historically we have never controlled any viral disease disrupting our schools without a vaccine mandate.”

Marsh, a Wolfeboro Democrat, also pointed to high rates of pediatric COVID-19 hospitalization associated with the current wave of the pandemic.

Paula McKinnon, president of the NH School Nurses Association, said this bill could help prevent COVID clusters that leave children sick and force them to miss school.

“When it comes to schools, you should be using all of the mitigation strategies available to you,” she said.

School vaccine and mask mandates have been hotly debated during this legislative session. Among the proposed legislation is a bill that would make face masks optional in schools, a bill that requires schools to offer vaccine exemptions, and a bill that allows students to transfer schools if their district has a mask mandate.

No K-12 schools currently require the COVID-19 vaccine for attendance. Several private universities. including Dartmouth College, Franklin Pierce University and New England College, have vaccine mandates in place. The University of New Hampshire, the second-largest university, in the state has changed its vaccine requirements twice since the beginning of the year as federal rules shifted. They most recently pulled back their mandate so they did not “jeopardize the federal government contracts that are so critical to our research, teaching and economic engagement missions.”

Anne Marie Mercuri, chief of the immunization section of the Department of Health and Human Services, said state health officials had not yet come to a consensus regarding this bill due to the “novel nature of COVID-19.

“The department seeks to appropriately balance individual and parental choice and the goal of keeping children enrolled in school while protecting the health of our children,” she said.

Several parents expressed concerns about the potential long-term side effects of the vaccine.

“No one on this planet can tell you what the effects of the shot will be in five years or 10 years time, yet the sponsors of this bill would like to inject our children, your children, your grandchildren, with a product surrounded by unknowns,” Christine Nault told legislatures, as she bounced a fidgety toddler at her hip.

Other parents raised worries that their unvaccinated children’s college options would be limited as a result of this legislation. As written, the mandate would apply to both public and private universities.

“It is my biggest fear that my 13-year-old rockstar does not think she can go to college on a scholarship because she doesn’t have the vaccine,” one mother said. “You don’t have that right to tell us what to do.”


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