Unhealthy Policy: Governor’s Decision Not to Administer COVID Vaccinations to Out-of-State Students

According to a news story published by Jean Mackin, News Anchor and Reporter for WMUR-TV, “Governor Chris Sununu made it clear…that New Hampshire college students from out of state are not eligible for vaccination in the state. During the briefing, Sununu said college students also do not fit the two-dose timeline where they would leave New Hampshire at the end of the school year before their second dose would be due.” Some college communities are questioning the decision and rightfully so.

Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig told Glenn Sabalewski (Portsmouth Herald) that the Governor should rethink his approach. He pointed out that “Vaccinating college students as soon as possible in host communities with large concentrations of students like Durham, Keene, Plymouth, Hanover, New London, etc. is very important for the health and welfare of all of our municipalities, our residents, and for the state as a whole.”

The Governor justified his position by stating that these students would be leaving New Hampshire at the end of the school year before their second dose would be due. (That projected timeline does not apply to all of these students and the increasing availability of the one-dose, Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes that argument moot.)

“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it” (Winston Churchill). Here is an excerpt from the 1866 Nashua Board of Health Report: “SMALL POX. This disease was first introduced into this city about the 22d of April last, by an Irish family from Boston, who stopped on High street a few days, exposing very many children to the infection, who had not been vaccinated, before the disease became known, and about one-sixth of the cases occurring here may be traced to that source…It has also been propagated (unknowingly no doubt) by persons having had the varioloid so mildly as not to be confined to their homes…Seven deaths in all have resulted from this disease.”

Mr. Selig told the Portsmouth Herald that “A local vaccination pod…directly targeting college students living in host communities would be a reasonable approach to consider. Unlike tourists or out of state second home owners, college students are part and parcel of our host communities.”

The COVID vaccination is an important tool to help us get our society back to normal. Herd immunity will occur when enough people become immune to the disease to make its spread unlikely. At the University of New Hampshire, located in Durham, about 60% of the 15,000 students enrolled are from out of state. The level of vaccination (or infection) that is needed to achieve herd immunity varies by disease but generally ranges from 83% – 94%. Herd immunity against COVID will not develop in Durham if only the 40% of the student body who are residents of New Hampshire have access to the vaccination.

While the Governor may want to prioritize the roll out of COVID vaccines to New Hampshire residents, he should rethink his decision to outright deny the vaccine to NH’s out-of-state students…for the health and safety of those in our state who welcome these students into their communities.

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