Critical Oversight In U.S. Bioterrorism Response Plan

Edition: July 2002 - Vol 10 Number 07
Article#: 1273
Author: Repertoire

To the Editor:

There may be serious consequences resulting from a major oversight by the Department of Health and Human Service's bioterrorism response plan. The goal of this plan is to improve the ability of the United States to prepare for and respond to a biological threat or attack. However, these efforts might be in vain if the anticipated delivery of smallpox vaccinations does not comply with the Federal Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act. This mandate requires healthcare workers to use needles equipped with some form of safety mechanism in order to protect themselves from needlestick injuries.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, smallpox vaccinations will be administered via a bifurcated needle, the same device that was used to eradicate smallpox decades ago, yet it has not been updated to meet the nation's current needlestick safety standards. A Bifurcated Safety Needle, the only device to deliver smallpox vaccine that complies with the Needlestick Safety law, is commercially available through companies such as Univec, Inc. and Pharmacy Services, Inc., yet has been passed over in favor of unsafe devices.

Needlestick injuries can spread infectious disease such as HIV, hepatitis, and smallpox; a danger that no healthcare worker or the general public should be exposed to, yet can easily be prevented when using devices in accordance with the Needlestick Safety law. Should a healthcare worker contract an infectious disease as a result of a needlestick injury, it costs the U.S. healthcare system approximately $1 million for treatment throughout the individual's lifetime. Multiply this cost over the thousands of people at risk, plus the obvious consequence that lives are at stake, and the potential domino effect becomes even more frightening. The safety of caregivers who administer smallpox vaccinations must be assured by preventing their exposure to needlestick injuries and the needless spread of infectious disease.
--Joel Schoenfeld