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News Release

 
   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
  December 9, 2002

 

Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner
(609) 984-7160


New Jersey Announces Smallpox Vaccination Plan


TRENTON -By the end of January or early February 2003, New Jersey plans to begin vaccinating up to 15,000 public health workers and hospital staff that have volunteered to be the front line of defense in the state's smallpox preparedness effort, Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. announced today.

The vaccinations will be the first phase of a voluntary immunization program outlined in New Jersey's smallpox vaccination preparedness plan to be submitted today to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Upon approval by the CDC, the plan will serve as a blueprint for public health officials, hospital staff, emergency workers and the public in the event of an outbreak of the deadly disease.

"Although there is no known imminent threat of a smallpox outbreak, New Jersey must be prepared for this and other forms of bioterrorism," Commissioner Lacy said. "Our plan calls for vaccinating key personnel now who would be involved in future investigations of and care for any potential cases of smallpox."

Smallpox is a highly contagious and deadly disease. In the past, approximately one in three who contracted the disease died. Through a comprehensive vaccination program beginning in the 1950s, the World Health Organization and its member states were able to eradicate smallpox worldwide by 1980. The last case of naturally occurring smallpox was in Somalia in 1977, and the last case in the United States was in 1947. However, experts believe smallpox may be possessed by individuals willing to use it as a weapon in a bioterrorism attack, and New Jersey considers it prudent to be prepared for the possibility of such an event.

"Smallpox poses one of the most significant threats to health of any agent of bioterrorism," said Lacy. "One confirmed case of smallpox anywhere in the world constitutes a global public health emergency. Last year, New Jersey was the epicenter of anthrax bioterrorism. One lesson our state and our country learned is the value of being prepared - through planning, training, and exercising for all possible health threats. Smallpox vaccination is an important element of New Jersey's Terrorism and Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan."

Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, NJ State Epidemiologist, Assistant Commissioner, and Smallpox Vaccination Plan Coordinator, said "New Jersey, like the rest of the nation, has been working closely with the CDC and is awaiting final decision on a national smallpox policy."

The White House could make an announcement of its plan as early as this week.

"We are in the process of identifying public health and health care workers who will volunteer to be vaccinated and become our core team in response to a possible smallpox outbreak." Dr. Bresnitz noted.
The plan details how vaccinations would be given to up to 15,000 hospital and public health care workers and to the public in the event of an outbreak. To implement the plan, New Jersey requested 15,000 doses of smallpox vaccine from the federal government.

Currently, about half of the United States population has never been vaccinated for smallpox. The other half were vaccinated before 1972 and medical experts say it is unknown whether those people who were vaccinated are still protected.

There are side effects associated with smallpox vaccination. Most people experience mild reactions that include a sore and swollen arm, fever, body aches, and swollen glands. Others, however, experience reactions ranging from serious to life threatening. It is estimated from prior experience with the vaccine that approximately 15 individuals per million vaccinated will experience life threatening adverse effects like encephalitis and that one or two per million will die as a result of vaccination.
Education will play a key role in helping prospective vaccinees to understand this deadly disease and the benefits and risks of vaccination.

Those contraindicated to be vaccinated as part of the pre-outbreak preparedness plan include individuals with the following conditions and those who live with people who have such conditions:

  • Pregnant women or women with children under the age of one year
  • People with eczema / atopic dermatitis or other chronic skin conditions
  • People being treated for cancer
  • People who have had organ transplants or are on immunosuppressive drugs
  • People who have HIV or AIDS
  • People whose immune systems are compromised for any reason

The first phase of voluntary vaccination would include Hospital Health Care Response Teams -- physicians, nurses and other hospital staff that would care for suspected smallpox patients and ensure appropriate procedures were followed to prevent disease spread. Each of the state's 85 acute care hospitals is being asked to identify up to 150 volunteers for those teams.
It would also include five Public Health Response Teams made up of local, county and state public health workers such as physicians, epidemiologists, public health nurses, and planners. These regional teams would be involved in investigating suspected smallpox cases as well as tracking potential contacts, vaccinating hospital workers and providing supplies and logistic support if a case of smallpox were confirmed.

One team will be responsible for each of the five regions. Clinics will be located in all five regions -- the northeast, northwest, central east, central west and southern regions of New Jersey - with an additional clinic in Newark to cover Metropolitan Medical Response System Personnel. Each clinic is expected to vaccinate about 700 people a day and will, initially, operate one day a week for four weeks.
New Jersey has partnered with Becton, Dickinson and Company, a world renowned medical technology company headquartered in New Jersey, to make New Jersey the first state in the nation to implement an innovative system for tracking and managing smallpox vaccination.

The system will undergo pilot testing on Wednesday, December 11, at the Hunterdon County Administration Building in Flemington as 250 public health officials from around the state participate in simulated smallpox vaccination.

As part of the system, information on each person immunized is entered into a statewide registry system that includes pertinent identification, medical history, a digital photo of the person vaccinated, and a photo of the vaccination site on the arm. Vaccinees will return in seven days for a follow up visit to determine if the vaccination was effective and to assess for adverse reactions.

"New Jersey is far better prepared today for potential acts of terrorism than we were last year. We cannot become complacent. We must continually improve our state of preparedness and our ability to respond rapidly and effectively to any and all health threats," said Dr.Lacy.

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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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