Gov. Chris Sununu has come under fire both locally and nationally over his “it’s your choice” approach to COVID-19 vaccines and mask mandates. Meanwhile, some Granite State Democrats are embracing government-mandated vaccinations in response to the rising number of cases.
And at least one N.H. House Democratic leader wants the government to treat able-bodied adults like children in public schools and mandate COVID vaccines for all.
Last week, Sununu signed the so-called “Medical Freedom” law declaring “Every person has the natural, essential, and inherent right to bodily integrity, free from any threat or compulsion by government to accept an immunization.” The new law prevents government entities from denying people access or services based on their vaccination status.
In response, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson said “Republican public officials” like Sununu “who bray about defending ‘bodily integrity’ — while actual American bodies needlessly go to the morgue — have ceased to serve the public.”
On Tuesday, Sununu followed up by announcing he had no plans to follow the CDC’s sudden u-turn on masks and vaccinations.
The CDC announced new guidance that fully vaccinated people in most communities should wear masks indoors due to the risk they might spread the COVID-19 virus. They also call for masks on all K-12 students when schools reopen.
“At this point, it isn’t about the government providing that bubble of safety around individuals,” Sununu said. “It is your choice. We have all the power to protect ourselves and the community, and that’s getting the vaccine. It’s safe it’s easy.”
The new guidelines are a complete reversal of the federal government’s position just days ago, as CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky acknowledged on CNN. And it’s a far cry from President Joe Biden telling America in May: “If you’ve been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. Let me repeat: If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask.”
After repeatedly rejecting calls for vaccine mandates, Biden is now expected to order some 2 million federal employees to attest they’ve received the shot or submit to weekly testing. Biden may also require all members of the U.S. military to get vaccinated as well, according to Politico.
“Everyone in America agrees that the messaging out of Washington is extremely confusing and this latest announcement only reinforces that at this time, the best solution to getting out of this pandemic lies with the individual — not government,” Sununu spokesperson Ben Vihstadt said in a statement.
“As Dr. Chan noted last week, New Hampshire has among the lowest rates of COVID of anywhere in the United States, and Governor Sununu does not support the reimplementation of COVID restrictions, including mask mandates. The vaccine is the single greatest tool individuals have to protect themselves and their family, and the Governor continues to urge all who have questions to talk with their trusted health care provider to help get as many Granite Staters vaccinated as possible.”
This isn’t good enough for some New Hampshire Democrats who want to join places like California and New York City and require government employees to be vaccinated or face repeated Covid-19 testing.
“I would use the same rules: Before children can be enrolled in schools, they must be vaccinated. It would be the same for adults,” said Rep. Majorie Smith (D-Durham) “It’s the same principle.”
Smith said Sununu did a good job in the earlier days of the pandemic, but his willingness to sign the “Medical Freedom” bill and reject CDC guidance raises “a very sad possibility that he has surrendered to the belief that COVID-19 is a political issue and not a medical one.”
Sununu has never supported vaccine mandates and he was reluctant to issue a statewide mask mandate. But far from being criticized by the general public, he’s enjoyed extremely high poll numbers for his handling of the pandemic.
Rep. David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) also believes the state should have the power to require adults to get the COVID-19 vaccine, “I’m just not sure we’re there yet,” he told NHJournal.
Meuse was critical of Sununu’s tone, saying the governor had lost his once-effective message on vaccines and mitigation and instead embracing a more ideological view.
“We’re having a debate about personal choice. We really need to be having a debate about personal responsibility. And that’s how the governor has framed it — as a personal choice issue. I frame it as a personal responsibility issue.”
Interestingly, given their party’s relationship with the teachers unions, both Smith and Meuse support mandatory vaccination for public school teachers before their return to the classroom.
“Absolutely,” Smith said when asked if she supported a vaccine mandate for teachers.
“I would not have a problem with school boards or the State Board of Education requiring that,” Meuse said.
Teachers unions have rejected these calls. “NEA New Hampshire has always advocated for vaccinations to be available, but it really is being left up to the educator or the parents of the child to decide whether they want to get the vaccination or not,” chapter president Megan Tuttle said in June.
Meanwhile, the science behind mandating mask wearing for vaccinated people remains unclear. According to Dr. Monica Gandhi, a doctor of infectious diseases at the University of California in San Francisco:
“Severe breakthrough infection as tracked by the CDC after vaccination remains rare. Among the more than 161 million Americans vaccinated, there have been 4,072 hospitalizations due to COVID after vaccination (0.0025%) and 849 deaths due to COVID after vaccination (0.0005%).”
And while the number of positive COVID-19 tests has been rising in New Hampshire, with nearly 500 current cases, there are just 20 people hospitalized from the disease.