By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu’s policy against vaccinating college students who are not New Hampshire residents applies to non-resident high schoolers 16 and older living at boarding schools here as well, according to his spokesman Ben Vihstadt.
The statement came as a surprise to state Sen. Dr. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, who has been active in the state’s response to the pandemic.
“That’s news to me,” Sherman said after a press conference Wednesday in which he and others gathered to publicly urge Sununu to change his policy and allow vaccinating non-resident college students living in New Hampshire while studying.
“Someone needs to let their (boarding high schoolers’) parents know,” Sherman said. On April 2, any New Hampshire resident 16 and older can register for the COVID vaccination, but not non-residents.
At the press conference, Sherman said: “Unfortunately last week in what is really rather shocking and confusing, Gov. Sununu announced that he is refusing to allow many college students to register for the vaccine.
“The bottom line is this will make the COVID crisis worse in New Hampshire because unvaccinated people – any unvaccinated people – present a risk to all of us including themselves especially with the rapid rise of these highly contagious variants and the rise in COVID cases. Towns like Durham and Hanover have some of the highest per capita COVID cases in the state,” Sherman said.
“Frankly Gov. Sununu’s refusal to vaccinate many college students in New Hampshire and encouraging them to actually fly or drive home to other states to get vaccinated is potentially dangerous public health policy and putting them and all Granite Staters at unnecessary risk. We can and should vaccinate all students. I will continue to advocate that to the governor and his administration in what I see as a misguided policy,” Sherman said.
Sherman wondered what high school boarding schools will do with the students who are not New Hampshire residents and have come from California, Colorado, Europe or Asia.
“This opens another Pandora’s box with kids who are not able to make their own health-care decisions told they have to stay at risk,” Sherman said. “We have a lot of private boarding schools. I do not know what the motivator in the governor’s office is for this exclusion. My focus always has been and is what is best for the residents of New Hampshire and especially their health. I don’t see how this can be justifiable public health policy,” Sherman said.
Vihstadt said the rules haven’t changed. He included in that a Twitter posting indicating there were negotiations between his office and the New Hampshire College and University Council to allow out-of-state student vaccinations, which he said was false.
“You need to be a New Hampshire resident to receive the vaccine. The same rules apply to out-of-state high school students and out-of-state college students,” Vihstadt said
The state’s position has not changed. “The state has consistently stated that NH residents will be given the first chance to be vaccinated. Any characterization that the prioritization process is changing is patently false,” he said.
“Our office received a phone call from the New Hampshire College and University Council, where we reiterated that NH residents cannot be put behind out-of-state, low-risk college students,” Vihstadt said.
Vihstadt said New Hampshire’s weekly vaccine allotments from the federal government are based on the state census, which accounts for permanent New Hampshire residents only, not out-of-state college students.
Less than 5% of cases today come from college students, Vihstadt said, so the idea that they are currently driving the spread of the virus and thus need the vaccine ahead of New Hampshire residents is patently false.
Vihstadt said many New England States are not currently vaccinating out-of-state college students. To fully vaccinate out-of-state college students before they go home for the summer with a two-dose regiment would require the state to push back appointment dates for thousands of New Hampshire residents who have waited their turn to schedule a vaccine appointment, Vihstadt said.
Many out-of-state students at New Hampshire Colleges are fully remote, and have been for a year, he said.
“Because New Hampshire has moved so quickly to open up the vaccine eligibility, this could cause out-of- state college students who have been remote, studying at their home in Massachusetts, Virginia, D.C., or elsewhere to travel up to New Hampshire to vaccine shop simply because they have a student ID,” Vihstadt said.
Sherman, a practicing physician who co-founded the senior support team during the pandemic and serves on the Crisis Standards of Care Committee, said he will continue to advocate for vaccinating out-of-state college and high school students if they are living here.
He helped give vaccinations at last weekend’s second mass vaccination site at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
“I was thrilled last Sunday when I spent the whole day at speedway vaccinating Granite Staters.
“It was an amazing experience seeing the joy and relief as people received their vaccinations. It was truly inspiring. This shows what we can accomplish when we all work together,” Sherman said.