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CONCORD, N.H. -  This morning, on the eve of the 2022 legislative session, health care leaders from across New Hampshire joined together for a virtual press conference warning about potential harmful impacts of dozens of bills that, if passed, would undermine the health of our state.

More than 30 pieces of legislation have been introduced for the 2022 session that would weaken New Hampshire’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and limit our ability to prevent and address future public health crises.  Included among these bills are HB 255, legislation held over from last year that now proposes to allow any individual to request a conscientious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine; HB 1035, a bill that would allow families to opt out of school vaccine requirements for philosophical reasons; and HB 1606, which would weaken New Hampshire’s vaccine registry, a critical tool in increasing vaccination rates and combatting infectious disease, by forcing individuals to opt-in to the program rather than allowing them to opt-out, as is the case under current law.

At this morning’s press conference, health care providers from Wentworth-Douglass Hospital; Ammonoosuc Community Health Services; the NH Nurse Practitioners Association and other organizations discussed the harmful public health impacts of these bills and dozens of others to be considered throughout coming months. 

“Tomorrow, when lawmakers reconvene for the 2022 legislative session, we want them to support public health and consider the voices of medical professionals and patients,” began moderator Mary Bidgood-Wilson, FNP, former Executive Director of the NH Nurse Practitioners Association. “To start off, lawmakers will consider anti-public health HB 255, held over from 2021, which would tie the hands of businesses, schools and other organizations, and limit their ability to adopt and enforce vaccine policies recommended by public health experts.”

On HB 1035, Paula MacKinnon, RN and President of the NH School Nurses’ Association, said: “Vaccinations play a vital role in effectively protecting infants, children and teens against 14 preventable and harmful diseases. HB 1035, relative to conscientious exemptions to school vaccine mandates, opens the door for many more families to send their children to school unvaccinated and NH at risk for a resurgence of diseases that have been made rare because of vaccine mandates, such as Polio, Measles, Mumps and Rubella.”

On HB 1606, Jane Goodman, Public Health Network Strategist for the City of Nashua, said: “As a public health professional, I am most concerned about our ability to reach New Hampshire’s most vulnerable populations. Making (the state vaccine registry) opt-in will erect barriers for patients and providers and will minimize the impact this public health tool could have on the health of New Hampshire residents.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has considerably impacted on primary prevention as care for chronic and non-urgent care in hospitals largely downscaled or suspended,” added Edward Shanshala II, MSHSA, MSEd, Chief Executive Officer at Ammonoosuc Community Health Services. “The delayed impact of this is already being felt. We need policy that are supportive of public health now more than ever.”

“If there’s anything we should take away from this pandemic, it is how incredibly fragile our public health system is,” said Dr. Thomas Lydon, Emergency Medicine Physician at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital. “We have had to send sick children to Rhode Island because we do not have any beds here. These situations are completely preventable but so many are not doing the bare minimum to prevent transmission like wearing a mask and getting vaccinated.”

“If people stopped thinking only of themselves and the inconvenience of a vaccine or wearing a mask, and chose instead to voluntarily do those things and anything else that could keep everyone safer, mandates would become unnecessary,” concluded Cathy Spinney, of Pelham, mother of an adult who experiences a developmental disability and is medically vulnerable. “Why wouldn't you, as a human, do whatever you could to contribute to the overall health of everyone? The person standing next to you getting groceries may be going home to someone vulnerable for whom COVID is life-threatening."

For a recording of the press conference, click here.