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Column: Leadership, unity over political showmanship

Published: 9/24/2021 10:09:58 PM
Modified: 9/24/2021 10:10:05 PM

This time last year, New Hampshire and the nation were desperate for the COVID-19 vaccine. We understood that herd immunity would only be achieved when more than 70% of the population had been vaccinated against this deadly, highly transmissible virus.

This time last year, we heard no objections to this life-saving solution. We spoke with friends, both Democrats and Republicans, eagerly awaiting their opportunity to get back to some kind of “normal.”

Today, herd immunity and a return to normal seem like far-off wishes as a national campaign of fear, misinformation and political grandstanding have replaced a national effort to move on.

So, what has changed since last year?

Our toolkit to fight this pandemic has expanded from masking, social distancing, hand-washing and common sense to include three highly effective, free vaccines. And yet New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, his Executive Council and Senate and House majorities have turned their backs on public health and safety to instead crusade against reasonable vaccine requirements aimed at keeping us safe, healthy and, most important, alive.

Leadership and a unified approach matter when responding to a crisis. Particularly when it comes to a public health response, the message needs to be centered around our individual responsibility to take care of one another and ensure the health of our communities.

This approach leads to a healthy economy in which employees are able to come to work. It means that our doctors’ offices and hospitals have room for patients in need of beds. It means our schools stay open and our kids remain in the classroom.

When our Republican leadership backs away from a unified approach, choosing instead to increase vaccine hesitancy in order to score political points with an extreme minority, they are only putting up additional barriers to restoring the full health of New Hampshire.

It strikes us in these extended days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when positive case numbers and hospitalizations are on the rise here in New Hampshire, that a unified approach would benefit all Granite Staters. If the vaccine is the “way out,” as the governor said at a recent news conference, then why would he, along with the executive councilors, senators and representatives he campaigned for, fight against a national strategy to raise vaccination rates?

If floodwaters were approaching your home, and local officials told you to get to higher ground where you will be safer, would you take time to object just because an official — federal, state or local — told you so? If the building you live or work in is on fire, would you ignore an order to get out only because an official told you to exit? Trained public health employees are telling us as a state how to get to higher ground, yet there is doubt.

It is irrational and dangerous to pick and choose which orders we will or will not follow during an emergency, and COVID-19 is a public health emergency.

What we can do is choose to join forces for good and get back to being a healthy state. We can work together to assist our public health networks in building out their overall capacity to ensure all Granite Staters are able to access timely and appropriate care, no matter their ZIP code.

We can recognize the importance of community health workers and the role they play in reaching hesitant populations through increased access to health care and social services, reducing the need for emergency services, serving as liaisons between community members and health systems, and improving the quality and cultural competence of service delivery.

Let’s come together, prioritize hiring these positions, and make real headway toward a healthier public.

State Republican leadership can stop their counterproductive and fiscally unsound efforts to use state tax dollars to fight with the federal government. They can stop quietly ignoring fellow elected officials who spread misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines. They can stop shifting the blame from chamber to chamber when crucial federal funds to support immunization efforts are rejected. Elected leaders at every level have the opportunity to take responsibility, hold themselves accountable to the public they were elected to serve and take steps to heal New Hampshire.

We all want to return to life before COVID-19. We all want to send our children to school without sharing the burden of a global pandemic with them. We want to walk back into concert venues and sing along with our favorite bands. We want our restaurant and retail workers to feel safe coming back to work. But that will never happen without a unified response rooted in science, common sense and individual responsibility.

It is long past time that our elected leaders do what they were elected to do: unify for the good of the Granite State, and lead.

Sue Prentiss, D-West Lebanon, represents District 5 in the New Hampshire Senate. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, represents Senate District 24.




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