(The Center Square) – Gov. Chris Sununu said he opposes President Joe Biden's new vaccine mandate and expects New Hampshire will eventually join legal challenges against the nationwide requirements.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference this week, the Republican said he is eager to join the legal fight against Biden's new requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying he won't support a federal rule that requires people to get vaccinated.
"We will be ready for the legal challenges that are likely to come and New Hampshire will participate one way or another," Sununu said. "We need folks to get vaccinated, there's just no question about that. But this … was not the right approach."
Biden's mandate will require employers with more than 100 workers to require them to be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 weekly. The new rules will apply to federal workers and contractors who do business with the federal government. Companies face fines of up to $14,000 per violation, Biden administration officials said.
The plan will also require vaccinations for about 17 million health care workers at hospitals and other facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding.
The White House estimates that the mandates could affect 100 million Americans who are still not vaccinated against the virus, including thousands of workers in New Hampshire.
Sununu said he is in discussions with other Republican governors about filing a legal challenge but said they need to wait for the federal vaccine rules to be finalized.
Meanwhile, Sununu said his administration is moving to boost vaccination rates that have been largely stagnant since this summer. He said that will include more mobile vaccination units and local vaccine clinics in partnership with cities and towns.
"If you get vaccinated, you are vastly more protected," the governor said. "It doesn’t mean it's 100%, but it really does work."
Only 55% of New Hampshire residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly 60% have had at least one shot, the agency says.
New Hampshire, like most states, has seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, with active infections topping 4,000 on Thursday – the highest number since February, according to state health officials.
State health officials announced 561 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. At least 136 virus patients were hospitalized.
At Wednesday's briefing, Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state's epidemiologist, said New Hampshire is currently averaging more than 400 new COVID-19 infections per day.
"Vaccination is the primary tool we have to control this pandemic, and we want to stress the importance of people getting vaccinated," he said. "Our vaccine numbers remain too low, and low vaccination is contributing to continued spread of COVID-19 in our communities."