By Tom Ozimek
New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday that he will “absolutely not” mandate a COVID-19 vaccine.
In an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Sununu was asked whether, in light of his state’s requirement for pre-school and kindergarten aged children to be vaccinated against a range of diseases in order to be admitted to school, he would support a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“Absolutely not. No way,” Sununu replied. “Anyone that’s going to mandate a first-trial vaccine really could be potentially asking for trouble and this is the ‘live free or die’ state.”
The governor added that he expects at-risk individuals will choose to take the vaccine “at an extremely high rate,” but that those who don’t want to be inoculated, won’t have to.
“The vaccine is about knowing that other folks have that choice to protect themselves and we, as a society, can kind of get back to whatever the ‘new normal’ is going to look like,” he said, adding that the question of a vaccine mandate would be for the New Hampshire legislature to decide.
Sununu’s remarks come as two COVID-19 vaccines are under emergency use authorization review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech candidate expected within days. But as the prospect of a vaccine being made available nears, attention is turning to who will get priority access and whether some Americans will be required to get inoculated.
Surveys have shown many Americans have safety concerns about a COVID-19 vaccine, with nearly half of the 10,000 respondents polled in a September Pew research survey saying they would definitely or probably not get the jab.
Some experts have suggested that, while a federal mandate is highly unlikely, some states may require the vaccine and, potentially, some employers.
“It’s much more likely that a private organization or company will require you to be vaccinated to get certain access to places,” said Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, in remarks to USA Today. “People worry about the president, governor, or county executive telling them what to do. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Still, while private companies have the right under the law to require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, many are unlikely to do so because of the risks of legal and cultural backlash, some experts say.
“Employers are on shakier grounds because of the emergency use authorization,” said Robert Field, a law and public health professor at Drexel University. He added that there was no precedent for vaccine mandates during that phase.
Ford Motor Co, which has ordered a dozen ultra-cold freezers to distribute vaccines to employees, said they would be made available on a voluntary basis.
A spokeswoman for Kellogg Co said the company was working with a medical expert and industry trade associations to make vaccines available to employees on a voluntary basis, in compliance with local and regional regulations.
“Companies could theoretically issue a mandate, but in the current political climate it is very unlikely they will do so,” said Peter Meyers, a law professor at George Washington University Law School. “Americans tend to shy away from mandates.”
Calls for COVID-19 vaccine mandates have gained traction in some states, however, with Virginia’s health commissioner saying over the summer that he would like to see such a requirement. Virginia law allows the commissioner to require immediate vaccination in case of an epidemic.
More recently, the New York State Assembly introduced a bill that would, if approved, mandate a vaccine for every New Yorker, except those medically exempt, if the state’s vaccination efforts do not achieve “sufficient immunity from COVID-19.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, in remarks that echoed Sununu’s, said in late November that his state would leave the decision about whether to get vaccinated or not up to personal choice.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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