New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu's decision to disqualify out-of-state college students from receiving the coronavirus vaccine is baffling many observers, who fear public health repercussions.
Even if some students attending higher education institutions in New Hampshire don't live there year-round, many work and travel within the state, pundits note.
With the spring term ending soon, out-of-state students may leave the state and could spread the virus in the process.
Sununu, a Republican, flatly declined during a press briefing last week to make out-of-state students eligible for a vaccine, arguing that they are becoming more widely available in other states. He also contended that because the academic year is almost over, those students would have trouble scheduling a second appointment for the vaccines that require two doses administered several weeks apart.
New Hampshire is opening vaccination eligibility to residents ages 16 and up starting April 2.
The move to bar out-of-state students rankled officials on and off campuses. A former state epidemiologist lambasted Sununu in an opinion piece on a local news website, asserting the decision was motivated by politics, not public health.
"This virus does not know the difference between a student who is a NH resident and one who is a resident of another state living in one of our college towns," the official wrote.
Leaders of some college towns have also disagreed with Sununu, calling for out-of-state students to be vaccinated.
Robert Kelchen, a higher ed professor at Seton Hall University, in New Jersey, said he understood the governor's logic of wanting to prioritize state residents.
"But it could cause a problem of unvaccinated students living in New Hampshire continuing to spread the virus," Kelchen said.
Whether to vaccinate out-of-state students could be a significant issue for New Hampshire, as large shares of students at some of its colleges hail from other states.
Excluding them could complicate campus life, said Madeline Buitendorp, the communications director for the College Crisis Initiative, which tracks institutional responses to the pandemic.
She questioned the fairness of the state blocking some students from receiving a vaccine, even though they're likely to be participating in the same activities as other students.
"It could create tension if you have in-state students vaccinated but out-of-state ones not," Buitendorp said. "Keeping track and enforcing safety measures is a lot harder."
C2i's founding director, Chris Marsicano, opined in a recent essay for NBC that states should give college students priority for vaccines. Not only do they travel often, they live in settings ripe for the virus to proliferate, such as dormitories, Marsicano wrote.
Vaccinating college students sooner than later "will make them and the communities they visit safer — and allow colleges and universities to reopen for the fall to avoid disrupting more educations and local economies," he wrote.