Once the new law goes into effect, New Hampshire ODs will be able to provide vaccines to patients who may not have or see a PCP. Photo: Getty Images.

Editor’s Note: As part of our “Year in Review” retrospective, we’ve selected the top 30 news stories of the year and are re-sharing them as we close out 2023. Follow along as we count down to number 1!

This story was originally published August 10, 2023.

No. 28 biggest news story of 2023:

The number of healthcare providers in New Hampshire who can administer FDA-approved vaccinations to patients shot up (no pun intended) by several hundred last Friday when Governor Chris Sununu signed Senate Bill 200, authorizing optometrists in the state to administer vaccines to adults for influenza, COVID-19 and shingles.

“The ability for licensed optometrists to provide vaccines means more choice for patients, and possibly more convenience, as optometrists often have patients who have their regular eye exam but do not have or don’t see a PCP,” comments Erica Griffin, OD, president of the New Hampshire Optometric Association (NHOA).

The bipartisan legislation was first introduced in January of this year, and by June, it had passed both the House and Senate with strong advocacy efforts led by the NHOA and optometrists across the state.

“Our ask was logical; we stuck to the facts and addressed OD training and patient access,” notes Dr. Griffin. “We pointed out that due to an anomaly in our statute, someone with only a high school education could administer vaccines but an independently-practicing doctorate-level health provider cannot,” she adds. “There was no disagreement among the legislators."

An amendment introduced in the state House in May threatened to delay the bill’s inclusion of mRNA vaccines by two years while research continues to be conducted on the new drug; however, a majority vote opposing the amendment ensured that the newly enacted law will still permit ODs to administer these vaccines for COVID-19.

“It was very frustrating for me and other optometrists on the frontline during the pandemic being underutilized during the COVID-19 vaccination pushes, particularly when President Biden gave the go-ahead at the federal level for optometrists to administer vaccines,” says Dr. Griffin. “This new law is progress toward being allowed to use our skills and training for the greater benefit of our patients.”

The House and Senate did adopt several other amendments throughout the legislative process; however, these were minor and related to the qualifications of optometrists who wish to administer these vaccines to their patients. For example, unlike the introduced bill, the signed document states that ODs must have at least $1,000,000 of professional liability insurance coverage and have active certification in basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation, along with other requirements.

American Optometric Association president, Ronald L. Benner, OD, offers his praise to all of those who played a hand in the passage of SB 200. “After tireless dedication and fortitude, the NHOA and New Hampshire doctors of optometry should be proud of this important step forward for the profession and patients across the state,” he says. “This win is a clear example of the expanding recognition of our primary eye health and vision care role and demonstrates the common sense progress we can accomplish when we come together to fight for what is best for our patients.” 

The new law goes into effect 60 days from the governor’s signature, which will land in the first week of October.