TRENTON - The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services began the first phase of its smallpox vaccination program today (January 31, 2003) by immunizing public health worker volunteers at the War Memorial in Trenton.
The more than 100 scheduled volunteers included physicians, nurses and epidemiologists from throughout New Jersey, who will vaccinate volunteers from New Jersey's acute care hospitals at seven non-hospital clinics across the state over the next month. The first phase should be completed by early spring.
Vaccinees will form two teams. The Public Health Response Team (PHRT), comprised of state and local public health workers and law enforcement officers, will be responsible for investigating possible or confirmed outbreaks of smallpox. The Hospital Health Care Response Teams (HHCRT), comprised of clinicians and support staff, will be responsible for treating initial victims of smallpox.
"Smallpox is a contagious viral disease that is fatal in as many as one third of cases," said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. "Although there is no specific treatment, smallpox can be prevented through vaccination and controlled by appropriate isolation of patients with confirmed illness.
"Because terrorists may possess smallpox and may be willing to use it as a bioweapon, New Jersey and the entire nation must be prepared. This first phase of vaccination gives New Jersey the capability to investigate and treat the first victims of a smallpox outbreak while more widespread vaccination is performed. New Jersey's vaccinated response teams will be prepared and available to treat smallpox victims anywhere in the state."
The first person to receive the vaccine as part of New Jersey's plan is Eddy Bresnitz, M.D., New Jersey State Epidemiologist, Assistant Commissioner, and Smallpox Vaccination Plan Coordinator. "We appreciate the efforts of our volunteer vaccinees, hospitals and local health departments in the establishment of smallpox response teams. These teams will be critical in response to a smallpox attack."
New Jersey's smallpox vaccination plan is based on guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New Jersey MEDPREP/Terrorism Advisory Committee, the Infectious Diseases Society of New Jersey and the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). It includes input from the New Jersey Hospital Association, the departments of Law and Public Safety and Labor, healthcare workers' unions, local health departments and Local Information Network and Communication System (LINCS) agencies, among others.
Smallpox was declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1980 after a successful worldwide vaccination program. The virus is now known to exist only in two secure repositories worldwide. However, authorities suspect it may be in the possession of terrorists who could use it as a weapon.
The vaccine does not contain smallpox, but rather a related, less harmful virus that confers protection against smallpox. The vaccine has side effects including fatigue, fever, and body aches.
Complications from the vaccine can be severe in rare instances and especially in people with certain conditions. Volunteers are screened to exclude individuals with the following conditions and those who live with people who have such conditions:
- Conditions that weaken the immune system such as HIV/AIDS, leukemia, lymphoma, or most other cancers or organ transplants.
- Severe autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, that may significantly suppress the immune system.
- Currently taking, or having recently been treated with, immunosuppressive drugs such as oral steroids (e.g. prednisone), some drugs for autoimmune disease, or drugs taken after an organ transplant.
- Undergoing cancer treatment with drugs or radiation or have undergone such treatment in the last three months.
- Eczema or atopic dermatitis or a history of these conditions, even in childhood or infancy.
- Other skin conditions that cause breaks in the skin such as allergic rash, severe burn, impetigo, chickenpox, shingles, or severe acne.
- Currently are being treated with steroid eye drops.
- Are currently pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant in the next month. Any woman who might be pregnant should take a pregnancy test with a "first morning" urine sample on the day of vaccination.
- History of life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotics polymixin B, streptomycin, chlortetracycline and neomycin.
- Moderate or severe illness (including illness with a fever).
- Darier's disease, a skin disease that usually begins in childhood.
- History of serious, life-threatening reaction to smallpox vaccine.
The federal government could subsequently authorize a second phase of smallpox vaccination for additional health care workers and first responders, such as police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The federal government does not recommend smallpox vaccination for the general public at this time.
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