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Freedom from vaccinations bill debated before Senate panel

By Paula Tracy - InDepthNH | Apr 15, 2021

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on a number of bills Wednesday.

CONCORD – People from around New Hampshire who oppose vaccinations, including against COVID-19, spoke Wednesday in support of a bill that would establish “medical freedom in immunizations.”

House Bill 220 http://gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/billText.aspx?sy=2021&id=202&txtFormat=html, was by far the most contentious among a handful of bills heard by the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Several of the other bills focused on children’s health, including ones that establish funding responsibility for newborn screenings, changes to prescriptions for the treatment of ADHD, and administering psychotropic drugs to children in foster care.

But none of them rose to the level of being pushed by the Freedom Caucus within the House of Representatives that attracted testimony from self-proclaimed experts around the country.

The bill was opposed by officials for the state Department of Health and Human Services and the state’s medical community. The House previously passed the bill on a voice vote.

Sponsor Rep. Timothy Lang, Sr., R-Sanbornton, said the bill was a good “first step” in preempting future limitations on those who refused to be vaccinated for religious and other reasons.

He said he is currently concerned about being able to attend graduation at the University of New Hampshire, for example, and whether it will require attendees to be vaccinated.

“This bill is not going to affect vaccination rates,” in the state, he said, noting the state currently has a high percentage of people willing to be vaccinated against the pandemic, which has caused the deaths of 1,257 residents and sickened 89,605 as of Tuesday.

And it is not a bill limited to the COVID-19 vaccine. “Every person has the natural, essential, and inherent right to bodily integrity, free from any threat or compulsion that the person accepts any medical intervention, including immunization. No person may be compelled to receive an unwanted medical intervention, including immunization,” the bill reads.

It contains exceptions that include it shall not supersede vaccination requirements for school admission, involuntary emergency admission, and would not limit the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services’ authority to order treatment pursuant to RSA 141-C:15 or RSA 141-C:18 and others.

While the bill seeks an effective date of 60 days after its passage, Lang said he would be willing to amend it to be effective upon passage. “This is about protecting the individual who chooses not to get vaccinated,” he stressed.

Picking up on other testimony, Lang said: “Where there is a risk there should be a choice.”

It also is not specific to COVID-19, though state Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, chairman of the committee, asked if Lang would be OK to limit the bill to the coronavirus vaccine rather than all vaccines in general and leave them for another day.

Laura Condon of Bedford said the fact that the state and others are now holding off on vaccinating people with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of reports of blood clotting in some cases is the tip of the iceberg.

“There is vaccine failure. Why are we not getting accurate information from our public health department?” she asked.

Dr. Beth Daly, chief of the Bureau of Infectious Diseases and Control for the Department of Health and Human Services, spoke in opposition to HB 220.

Daly said while there were some specific exceptions listed now in the bill “we have some concerns about the bill from a public health” perspective and some unintended consequences that could come from it.

She said the wording about employers only mandating when a direct threat exists opens the door to future restrictions.

“We are primarily concerned about the bill in health-care facilities,” Daly said and while many do require it, the bill could allow for certain exceptions.

Long-term care is of particular concern as this may expose the vulnerable who are housed there with potential risk, Daly said.

Whitley said under existing law we do a good job of balancing personal freedom and protecting public health.

“We do believe there is already a balance,” Daly said and this bill might upset that balance.

Daly said the vaccines are very safe and she said there was a lot of disinformation “that was just provided for you,” by others speaking in support of the bill.

Other Bills

Rep. William Marsh, R-Wolfeboro, introduced his proposed legislation, House Bill 600, which would fund newborn screening tests.

He said the cost of filter paper used to perform the test had gone up dramatically from $40 to $170 in a year and now hospitals and birth centers are expected to pick it up as a supply cost, rather than as a test which is provided for free.

To handle it as law would have the state retreating from bundled care to a fee for service which was considered regressive by some, but proponents argued that the bill would force the insurance providers to the table to negotiate.

Paula Minihan, senior vice president for government relations with the NH Hospital Association, said they were very supportive of the bill.

But Sen. Bradley asked all sides involved to sit down at the table and hammer out a compromise and possibly avoid having to act on the bill before it is due out of committee.

Another bill would allow for 90-day prescriptions to be provided and to be on hand, rather than 60 days for the treatments of attention deficit disorder, attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity or narcolepsy.

State Rep. Mary Beth Walz, D-Bow, said she brought the measure forward at the request of constituents to extend the length of prescriptions, noting some insurance companies will not accept them.

She said these drugs are prescribed by psychologists and few are available in the state. She said such a change would not impact the opioid crisis.

Dr. Linda Call said the benefits of treating people consistently reduces the likelihood of people stopping their medication and resulting in problems that could come.

House Bill 120

Another bill was heard related to administering psychotropic medications to children in foster care. The bill would require a treatment plan and in New Hampshire, proponents of the bill claimed about 23 percent of those children had no treatment plan.

Moira O’Neill, director of the New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate, supported the bill and suggested an amendment that would make it consistent with reforms to ensure an assessment is made. She said some might have underlying medical conditions.

“It is always best practice to do a full medical workup. This is just a prompt for that sort of care,” she said.

Michael Skibbie, policy director for the Disability Rights Center spoke in support of the bill.

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