Out-of-state college students still appear to be out of luck when it comes to getting the coronavirus vaccine in New Hampshire.
Gov. Chris Sununu said last week that only New Hampshire residents would be eligible for the vaccine when eligibility expands Friday to include anyone age 16 and over, and that out-of-state college students should return to their home states to get vaccinated.
New Hampshire is now the only state in New England refusing to vaccinate out-of-state college students. Now, there is a push to get Sununu to change his approach.
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Out-of-state students at the University of New Hampshire think they should be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine along with the rest of Granite Staters 16 years old and older on Friday.
“If we all got it, it would make it safer for everyone in New Hampshire,” said UNH senior Matthew Walter, who is from Maine.
“People are paying to be here, they are part of the community, so it’s important,” said UNH Freshman Maddy Thorne.
But Sununu says if you’re not a permanent resident, you’ll have to go home to get your vaccine. Since the allotment from the Feds only accounts for New Hampshire residents, Sununu says he must prioritize Granite Staters over college kids.
“It makes me kind of upset,” said Dierdre Smith, a UNH student from Massachusetts who works at a downtown Durham restaurant.
She doesn’t understand why the governor wouldn’t want someone like her vaccinated to help stop the spread.
Sununu said Wednesday his position hasn’t changed, despite an announcement from a nonprofit consortium that includes 21 public and private campuses.
“The New Hampshire College and University Council has entered into discussions with the Governor’s Office to identify a timeframe for out of state students to be eligible for the state’s VINI registration program,” said Michele Perkins, chair of the council and president of New England College.
She said colleges recognized the need to prioritize New Hampshire residents, but as the vaccine process unfolds ahead of the original schedule, they are hopeful the state will offer the vaccine to all students who want it.
But Sununu’s office said any suggestion that the process is changing is “patently false.”
“Our office received a phone call from the NH College and University Council, where we reiterated that New Hampshire residents cannot be put behind out of state, low-risk college students,” Sununu spokesperson Ben Vihstadt said in an email.
Thursday, eight different leaders of college towns across the state signed a letter urging Sununu to reconsider his approach, they say to protect people like Franz Guest, who live and work in their communities.
“I think everyone should be vaccinated as quickly as possible however convenient that may be,” said Guest, a Durham business owner. “It’s more convenient for them to be vaccinated here.”
If vaccine supply increases, the requirements for residency likely will change, he said. But fully vaccinating students before they depart for the summer would mean pushing back appointment dates for New Hampshire residents, and giving students only one dose would create confusion around their second doses, he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers and college students held a news conference to object to the governor’s decision.
“Vaccinating the student population would save lives and livelihoods,” said Hannah Dunleavy, a student at Dartmouth College. “Clearly, students at Dartmouth are contracting COVID-19 at high rates, and we risk spreading the virus to people in the town of Hanover if we don’t vaccinate students...The virus doesn’t care if we live in New Hampshire nine months out of the year or all year round.”
In Vermont, meanwhile, state officials are expected to expand eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to out-of-state college students and second homeowners beginning April 30.
Gov. Phil Scott announced the policy change on Wednesday after he initially said vaccines in the state would be reserved for state residents.
Retired epidemiologist and public health expert Jeffrey Salloway says it’s the right decision, especially since college towns are seeing an increase in cases.
“Those out of staters are among us,” Salloway said. “They’re living here, they’re working in supermarkets, they’re supporting themselves, they’re living in congregate housing, these could all be spreaders of the disease.”
Sununu says it’s a logistical nightmare. In order to fully vaccinate out of staters before they go home in May for summer break, the state would have to delay or even cancel appointments for New Hampshire residents. Sununu says it’s not something he’s willing to do.
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In Vermont, for the purposes of being vaccinated, residents are defined as people who have lived here for six months, including college students who plan to spend the summer in the state.
When asked by a student journalist from the Vermont Cynic, the newspaper at the University of Vermont, about vaccinations for students, Scott said it was Vermonters first.
In a clarifying statement issued late Wednesday, Scott said discussions have been ongoing about when to make non-resident students eligible to be vaccinated.
“Based on the current vaccine supply forecasts, and as long as doses continue to be allocated at the current level, the state expects to expand registration for COVID-19 vaccines to any college students who do not meet the residency definition above, as well as second homeowners returning to Vermont for the summer months, on April 30,” the statement said.