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Smallpox and Bioterrorism

MNA Urges DPH to Suspend Smallpox Vaccinations, But to Proceed with Educating and Training Workforce

In the wake of serious cardiac-related complications related to the vaccination of health care workers for the smallpox pre-event vaccination plan, as well as continued resistance by officials to support furloughing of vaccinated employees to protect the public, the MNA has made a formal request to the state Department of Public Health to suspend the vaccination plan until these issues are resolved. Instead, the MNA calls upon the state to proceed with the education and training of volunteers, without vaccinating at this time.

Eleven states have suspended their vaccination plan to date. In late April, the MNA sent a letter to DPH asking Massachusetts to join this list. Excerpts from the letter can be found below:

"While we appreciate the ongoing dialogue with the DPH over these issues, our key concerns have yet to be adequately resolved. For example, it is clear there has been an effort to deal with the issue of compensation and liability for health care workers through federal legislation. However, the MNA’s most pressing concern, that of the need to furlough employees to protect patients from unwarranted exposure, has yet to be addressed on either the state or federal level.

"In light of the outstanding unresolved issues and the new concerns related to cardiac-related complications, the MNA is taking this opportunity to formally request that the DPH suspend the vaccination of civilian health care workers until these issues are adequately resolved. It is important to note that as of this writing, eleven other states have suspended their immunization programs.

"It is clear, given the extremely low level of participation by health care workers in the plan to date, that the program as constituted is not achieving its objectives. We further believe DPH needs to take a leadership role in redirecting this effort to ensure its ultimate success. Of greater concern is the fact that many health care facilities across the state are pushing ahead with vaccination campaigns while providing inadequate and confusing information. Were we to experience an event here in Massachusetts like that experienced in Maryland, there would be irreparable harm done to the state’s preparedness effort.

"As was the case when this plan was first instituted, there is no imminent threat of a bioterrorism attack related to smallpox. This means we have the time to resolve outstanding issues and to develop and implement a successful plan that will engender the trust and broad based participation by the civilian health care workforce."

The MNA believes it to be imperative for DPH to change the focus of the program to proceed with the education of the health care workforce and training of response teams for an emergency preparedness plan without vaccinating employees at this time. At such time that these issues are adequately resolved, or in the event of an actual smallpox event, the workforce would be ready to respond and begin the vaccination process.