Tuesday, December 10, 2002
County Executive Dennis Levinson announced today plans to offer smallpox vaccinations to designated public health staff as well as select personnel in all acute care hospitals in the county. These efforts follow yesterday's submission of a Smallpox Vaccination Plan by the New Jersey Department of Health to the US Centers for Disease Control.
"Our goal is to implement the state's plan at the county level, assuring that we have a core response team in Atlantic County that is prepared in the event of a smallpox outbreak," explains Levinson.
There are currently no cases of smallpox. Information provided to state and county officials continues to assess the risk of an intentional release of smallpox as low. Health officials stress that this pre outbreak vaccination effort is part of a comprehensive bioterrorism preparedness program in development by the state and county. Notes County Health Officer Tracye McArdle, "We want to be as proactive and aggressive as possible in our preparedness and response plans."
Hospital officials were briefed last week by county public health staff, and joint local planning efforts are underway. Pending CDC approval of the state plan, a three staged approach to smallpox vaccination is anticipated. Stage 1, expected to begin in late January/early February 2003, is to vaccinate the core response team. This will include select public health personnel tasked with providing smallpox vaccinations or investigating initial cases or suspected cases of smallpox that would necessitate direct patient contact, such as public health nurses and epidemiologists. Stage 1 vaccinations will also be offered to designated hospital personnel who would care for the initial cases or suspect cases of smallpox. Hospital staff to be offered vaccinations include those from emergency rooms, intensive care units, security, housekeeping, and any other personnel needed to render round-the-clock care using 8 to 12 hour shifts.
Pursuant to state and federal plans, Stage 2 vaccinations will be offered to first responders (police, fire, EMT, etc.), followed by Stage 3 in which vaccinations will be available to the general public. No specific time frame has yet been established by federal or state officials for Stages 2 and 3. All vaccinations are being offered on a voluntary basis.
Approximately 375 public health and hospital personnel in Atlantic County will be eligible for Stage 1 vaccinations. Over the next several weeks, the Division of Public Health and area hospitals will identify eligible employees and provide education to them about smallpox and the smallpox vaccine. Potential vaccinees will undergo a comprehensive, standardized prescreening for conditions that they or their household members may have that would exclude them from the vaccination program because of increased risk of serious adverse reactions. Such conditions include: a weakened immune system as a result of HIV/AIDS, cancer, organ transplant, chemo/immunotherapy, or radiotherapy. Additionally, women who are pregnant or breast feeding, and individuals with a history of eczema, atopic dermatitis and certain other skin conditions should also avoid vaccination in a non emergency (pre outbreak) program. Serious adverse reactions are very rare and occur predominantly among individuals with these conditions.
Stage 1 vaccinations will take place at five regional locations in the state. The South Jersey vaccination center will be located in Burlington County. Public health nurses from the Atlantic County Division of Public Health will be vaccinated in advance and assist in administering vaccinations to hospital staff at the regional clinic over a 30 day period. All vaccinees will return to the clinic one week following their vaccination to ensure that the vaccine has taken effect.
County officials note that while focusing on this smallpox vaccination program, Atlantic County continues to build its broad based public health response capabilities:
- The County Public Health Emergency Preparedness Task Force, established last year and chaired by Freeholder Chairman Kirk Conover, has just completed the county's Interim Bioterrorism and Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan. An executive summary will be publicly released shortly.
- Using grant funding, the county Division of Public Health has hired a full time epidemiologist and two Information Technology Specialists to enhance its capacity to conduct disease surveillance and outbreak investigation.
- Tentative sites have been identified in the county for mass immunization clinics, as well as isolation and alternate care facilities.
- An 800mgHertz radio communications system has been launched in the county.
For more information about small pox and smallpox vaccine, visit the CDC Web site (www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox), or the county Web site (www.aclink.org/publichealth), or call the county Division of Public Health at 609-645-5935.