CONCORD — The vaccination contracts that sparked disruptive protests that shut down an Executive Council meeting two weeks ago were voted down at Wednesday’s Council meeting.
The scope of the two contracts included $27 million in federal funding that would have created 13 state health department positions for immunization work. The positions included vaccine outreach, assistance for health-care providers navigating the logistics of vaccines and support for data entry on the state’s immunization information system.
Councilor Cinde Warmington, a Democrat, was the only councilor to vote in favor of the funding.
The vote followed a period of intense questioning of Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibenette, an angry back and forth between Gov. Chris Sununu and several councilors, and a long statement from Councilor Janet Stevens hailing the importance of vaccine equity and combating disinformation, meant to preface her “no” vote.
In a statement issued after the vote, Sununu said the “vote showed a reckless disregard for the lives we are losing while they turn away the tools our state needs to fight and win this battle against COVID.”
Wednesday’s meeting took place at the state Police Standards and Training Council in Concord, a location officials chose in the wake of protests that required the last Executive Council meeting to be postponed. Officials said it was secure and large enough to accommodate members of the public, press and officials.
About 170 protesters filled the public section of the room. They made their opinions known early on in the meeting when federal funding for case management for refugees 60 years and older was discussed. Some protesters shouted they did not want refugees in New Hampshire.
As disturbances continued, state troopers did not hesitate to make arrests and escort loud and unruly protestors out of the meeting.
N.H. State Police arrested nine people, including Keene resident John R. Schmitt, 68, for disorderly conduct, authorities announced in a news release Wednesday afternoon. The others arrested were Frank N. Staples of Manchester, Terese M. Grinnell of Loudon, Monica A. Holm of Hudson, Marylyn T. Todd of Nashua, Emilee K. Spiller of New Ipswich, James E. Stuart of Rochester, Albert J. Todd of Nashua and Kathleen A. Bussiere-Appleton of Newton. The latter two were also charged with resisting arrest in addition to disorderly conduct, police said.
The contracts rejected Wednesday had come under fire from protesters and coordinated right-wing groups last month, who falsely claimed that a standard section in the contract would increase federal control and oversight of New Hampshire’s public health efforts.
Both Attorney General John Formella and Gov. Chris Sununu addressed and debunked these claims. The two reiterated key points from Formella’s prior statement that the language had already appeared in items approved by the council in the past, is likely to appear on future items, and the language of concern does not bind the state to any sweeping federal demands.
The council did approve federal funding for other COVID-19 vaccination efforts, including the expansion of a contract with On-Site Medical Services to provide mobile vaccines and funding to create a second mobile vaccine in partnership with ConvenientMD. Both efforts had been on hold following the cancellation of the last executive council meeting.
Other COVID-related funds were approved Wednesday too, including a retroactive contract with ClearChoiceMD for four public testing sites.
For protesters, the “no” vote on the contracts at the heart of their demands was a success. As soon as the contracts were voted down, the remaining crowd left the building, cheering.