Vaccination against COVID-19 would be either outlawed or encouraged under competing bills heard by a Senate committee Thursday.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee held a public hearing on a bill that would prohibit K-12 schools or day care centers from requiring children to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It also took up a bill that would require health insurance companies to offer financial incentives to vaccinated customers.
Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, said hundreds of parents asked him to sponsor the first bill. They’re already angry that some school districts require students to wear masks and “we don’t want a handful of bureaucrats deciding whether our children take this particular vaccine,” he said.
Current law requires schoolchildren to be vaccinated against seven diseases, not including COVID-19, and individual districts do not have the authority to add to the requirements.
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The bill was opposed by health care advocacy groups, the New Hampshire Hospital Association and the New Hampshire Medical Society.
Paula Minnehan, senior vice president of the hospital association, said it would be irresponsible to take mandatory vaccinations for schoolchildren off the table.
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"The current surge in COVID-19 in crippling our health care system, and we need all the options available to battle this pandemic," she said.
Supporters of the bill argued it would be dangerous to require children to get a vaccine when its long-term effects aren’t known.
U.S. regulators authorized Pfizer’s vaccine for younger children in October after millions of 12- to 17-year-olds already safely got the shot. The FDA assessed the safety of the kid-size doses in 3,100 vaccinated youngsters. Regulators deemed that enough data, considering the trove of safety information from hundreds of millions of larger doses given to adults and teens worldwide.
Supporters of the bill also spoke against Sen. Cindy Rosenwald’s bill that seeks to incentivize adults to get vaccinated. Insurers would be able to decide for themselves what kind of incentive to offer, and participation would be voluntary, said Rosenwald, D-Nashua.
"Any reduction in the number of very sick covid patients through increased voluntary vaccination would save money and not inadvertently cause health insurance premiums to rise further," she said.
The committee did not act on the bills Thursday. Altogether, the Legislature is considering dozens of bills related to the COVID-19 vaccine this session.