Doctors and healthcare administrators plead with legislators to protect vaccine mandates

  • FILE - In this Wednesday. Oct. 13, 2021, file photo, audience members gather during a meeting of New Hampshire's Executive Council in Concord, N.H. Republicans in New Hampshire are struggling to contain a wing of their party that is promoting conspiracy views around the COVID-19 vaccine and pushing back, sometimes aggressively, regarding federal mandates to get the shot. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer, File) Holly Ramer

Monitor staff
Published: 1/4/2022 3:41:09 PM
Modified: 1/4/2022 3:40:29 PM

A slew of bills in the upcoming legislative session target issues surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations leaving healthcare leaders concerned. 

At a press conference Tuesday, doctors and public health experts gathered to discuss 30 or so bills in the legislative session, which they said could undermine New Hampshire’s public health system.

House Bill 255 would allow anyone to request a conscientious exemption for the COVID vaccine, effectively dissolving vaccine mandates imposed by businesses and schools. House Bill 1210 does the same for universities in addition to prohibiting employers from mandating treatments approved for emergency use authorization. House Bill 1035 would allow families to opt-out of all school-mandated vaccine requirements for philosophical reasons.

Jane Goodman, a public health network strategist for the city of Nashua, raised concerns about House Bill 1606 that would make the state’s vaccine registry opt-in instead of opt-out.

New Hampshire is the last state in the country to implement a statewide registry. Widespread participation in the system is important to allow public health experts identify neighborhoods that need more outreach to boost vaccination rates. However, the vaccine registry has attracted criticism from both privacy and anti-vaccine advocates.

Goodman said changing the participation rules to opt-in would dramatically hinder the state’s ability to track and manage transmissible diseases.

For Dr. Thomas Lydon, an emergency medicine physician at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, who cares for the sickest COVID-19 patients day after day, legislation that limits vaccine mandates are frustrating.

He said the latest surge has forced the hospital to move overflow patients into conference rooms, the chapel, and hallways. The immense strain on the hospitals doesn’t just impact the unvaccinated.

In November, Wentworth-Douglass had to stop accepting heart-attack patients, making the ambulance drive further with people in critical condition. They also stopped accepting patients in need of a number of surgeries for a period of time.

“We wouldn’t even let the ambulance come to the hospital we were so full,” he said.

He recalled one instance in which a local man, who could not be admitted to Wentworth-Douglas because of capacity challenges, was losing blood flow to his leg. Lydon couldn’t find a hospital in New England that had room to admit him. Eventually, the man was accepted into a hospital in Boston, but his condition had progressed enough that his leg needed to be amputated.

Healthcare for sick children, who have been hit hard with the flu and respiratory virus called RSV, has also been limited. Lydon said a few weeks ago, they could transfer pediatric patients to hospitals in Rhode Island or Connecticut but now, those facilities are also overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

“We don’t know where we’re going to be sending our children,” he said. “If anyone takes anything away from the pandemic, it’s what a fragile healthcare system we have and how it depends on everybody doing something.”

Jake Berry, vice president of policy for New Futures, said this year’s collection of healthcare bills is unlike those of any other legislative session in the recent past.

“Every year there are a handful of bills that come forward that are questionable in our eyes,” Berry said. “Cumulatively these bills represent really a direct assault on the public health of our state.”

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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