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By Kevin Landrigan New Hampshire Union Leader

CONCORD — Having the state purchase all adult vaccines could save $4 million a year and keep anyone up to 65 years old from having to pay for their shots, according to lawmakers pursuing this reform.

State Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, a retired physician, first offered this bill (HB 604) before the pandemic hit.

The COVID-19 vaccine, which is free to the public, is not covered under the legislation.

That likely will change when the Centers for Disease Control puts the coronavirus shot on the approved list of annual vaccines, which includes influenza, pertussis and diphtheria.

“At some point they will not be free, then be put on the list, and then they would be covered under this bill,” Knirk said.

Since 2002, the state has purchased all vaccines for children through the New Hampshire Vaccine Association, a public-private partnership.

The state buys $38 million worth of vaccines for $28 million, a $10 million savings, Knirk said.

This bill would require insurers to pay a per-person assessment to cover the cost of administering the adult vaccine program.

Dr. Beth Daly, director of the state infectious disease control bureau, said the state would need $360,000 to hire four staffers to work with up to 400 new providers of vaccines for this population.

“Increasing access of vaccines for adults is important because some of our immunity to vaccines we receive as a child wanes over time,” Daly said.

Over the past decade, one adult has died from chicken pox, a newborn died after contracting whooping cough from an unvaccinated mother, and two people died from a recent spread of Hepatitis A that made 300 people sick.

“These were all tragic and preventable cases,” Daly said.

Three states cover all shots

Knirk said insurers are willing to pay the administrative charge because they would save nine times their cost.

New Hampshire is one of 10 states that manages the delivery of vaccines to all children. If the bill were passed, New Hampshire would join Vermont, Rhode Island and Alaska in offering adult vaccines in this manner.

Advocates for New Futures, Anthem and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care support the measure.

“This in no way mandates adults to receive any vaccination,” noted Holly Stevens, health policy coordinator for New Futures, an advocacy group for spending to promote healthy outcomes.

Laura Condon of Bedford, a former public member of the New Hampshire Vaccine Association, said advocates overestimate the savings from this bill. Health care providers already purchase adult vaccines at a “deep discount,” she said.

If the state took over vaccines for those under 65 with insurance, the industry might not be able to afford to continue serving what’s left of the market, she said.

“This could put the adult vaccine availability at risk,” Condon said.

Bill supporters disputed Condon’s statements.

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