New Hampshire's Executive Council on Wednesday approved using federal funds to boost COVID-19 vaccination efforts in a vote that involved much less drama — and money — than previous requests.
Two weeks ago, the Republican-led council that approves state contracts turned down $27 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over concerns that language in the grants would have bound the state to follow federal directives and mandates related to COVID-19. More than 100 vaccine mandate opponents packed the room, and nine were arrested for interrupting the meeting.
But protestors were absent Wednesday when the the council unanimously voted to use $4.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to help community health centers and regional public health networks set up school-based and community vaccination clinics.
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"This will be an additional resource that is needed," said Republican Councilor Joe Kenney.
But Cinde Warmington, the lone Democrat on the council, noted that using the ARPA funds instead of the CDC money diverts money that could have been used for other programs. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette agreed.
"The concern is that the language in the CDC grant will likely appear in other grants coming in the future and are we going to continue to reject those funds and need to backfill with ARPA funds?" she said. "Because if we do that, we're talking tens of millions of dollars that we're pulling out of our very flexible ARPA funds to backfill money that should have been received from the CDC."
The legislative fiscal committee approved the $4.7 million last week. But the actual contracts with the health centers will still need to come back to the council for approval, and that won't happen before children ages 5-11 become eligible for vaccines, Shibinette said.
"When you have all of the boosters coming online at the same time and 125,000 5- to 11-year-olds becoming eligible, the ability to get an appointment is going to be delayed because we don't have all the providers on board because of the delay in this money," she said.
The language Republicans opposed has appeared in other contracts they approved, and both Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General John Formella have said it does not in any way impede the state's sovereignty.