Sparks flew at Friday’s meeting of the state’s Fiscal Committee when House Finance Chair Ken Weyler (R-Kingston) challenged Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette’s claim that 90 percent of people hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Shibinette responded by accusing the Republicans of spreading misinformation.

Now Weyler tells NHJournal that, when it comes to data regarding the vaccine, hospitalizations, and outcomes, he doesn’t trust Shibinette and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Not when it comes to the shot,” Weyler said.

The fight began when Weyler objected to Shibinette’s statement that more than 90 percent of the people hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

“That is in doubt,” Weyler said.

“It is not in doubt by the health care community,” replied Shibinette.

“Well, people I’m hearing from, working in emergency rooms, are saying 90 percent of those admitted have had the shot,” Wyler insisted.

“That’s incorrect,” Shibinette shot back. “That’s misinformation, and that’s the problem we’re having increasing our vaccination rate, is spreading misinformation about the COVID vaccine.”

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu swiftly released a statement supporting his top public health officer.

“As elected officials, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards and we absolutely cannot contribute to the spread of misinformation. It is dangerous and wrong.”

Meanwhile, Weyler, who is unvaccinated, stood by his claim that the data coming from the Department of Health and Human Services is suspect. Asked for the source of his information, Weyler said he was getting it from talk radio shows and the internet.

“I was listening to a talk show and a woman says she’s an ER nurse, and that 90 percent of people coming in have had the shot.” Weyler also told NHJournal he’s seen reports “on the internet” of outcomes different from those reported by Shibinette.

“I think they’re just sticking with the Democrats’ talking points,” Weyler said. “Do you trust CBS and NBC and ABC on this? I don’t.”

So, does Weyler trust the data being reported by the Sununu administration’s Department of Health and Human Services?

“Not when they are talking about the shot,” he said.

Weyler also repeated unverified claims about the impact of the COVID vaccine on fertility.

“More scuttlebutt about these shots is getting around,” Weyler said. “If you’re a man, you might want to freeze your sperm if you’re going to get [the vaccine], and women who are pregnant shouldn’t get it.”

The Republican chairman’s comments echo those from rapper Nicki Minaj, who claimed her “cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen.”

An August 24, 2021 article from Scientific American says those fears are unfounded. Trinidad health officials released a statement that the claim was false.

Weyler is unmoved.

“Why is there such a push to get everyone to get this shot? I’ve been doing this for 24 years, and I know when I’m not getting the full story. When [Shibinette] made such a definitive statement about the 90 percent, well, they have very little data.”

Weyler reflects a broader problem facing the New Hampshire GOP and the Republican Party as a whole. As several NHGOP insiders told NHJournal, Weyler isn’t known in the party as a fringe member or outlier. He’s a respected committee chair who fellow Republicans believe has done good work. His stance can’t be dismissed as outside the party’s mainstream.

“He’s not some kook from Laconia saying crazy stuff to get attention,” one insider said. “People in the party really respect him. This is a real problem.”

In a new Fox News poll released Sunday, while 65 percent of Americans said they believe the coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective, just 50 percent of Republicans agree. And 43 percent of Republicans said they disagreed, as did 40 percent of independents.

Weyler’s comments came during a Fiscal Committee hearing over New Hampshire accepting $27 million in federal funds under the American Rescue Plan to promote vaccinations.

“$27 million to hire 15 people to go out and try and get people to get shots. You think that’s a good decision and a good use of money?” Weyler told the Seacoast Current. “From a financial standpoint, it seems to me like a waste of money.