May 6, 2003 (CIDRAP News) The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said yesterday it will release $100 million in recently appropriated emergency funds to help states with their smallpox vaccination program and other public health preparedness efforts.
The money represents a sum that Congress appropriated in April in response to states' concern about the cost of the civilian vaccination program, HHS spokesman Bill Pierce told CIDRAP News. The money is in addition to $1.4 billion in public health preparedness funds that states were already promised for fiscal year 2003.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson "will send letters to governors soon notifying them of the availability of the smallpox funds," the HHS announcement said. Pierce said the letters will explain how to access the funds.
"This additional money is part of our overall commitment to our state and local partners to build a stronger public health system to care for Americans in the event of any emergency, including a smallpox attack," said Thompson in the news release.
The program to vaccinate public health and healthcare workers for smallpox response teams began Jan 24. The original aim was to recruit and vaccinate more than 400,000 workers, but the effort has moved slowly, with fewer than 35,000 immunized so far.
In March, Thompson announced that 20% of the fiscal 2003 biodefense appropriation of $1.4 billion would be made available to states immediately, with the rest to follow after HHS approval of state public health and hospital preparedness plans.
"Only eight states have taken us up on the opportunity to get the 20%," Pierce said today. He said the reasons were unclear. "They just had to let us know they wanted it. You'd think they would've jumped at the opportunity, but they didn't."
Probably within about 10 days, HHS will be providing detailed guidance on what states need to do to get the rest of their 2003 funding, Pierce said. He added that the process will be much like the one used last year.
HHS is spending a total of about $3.5 billion this year on bioterrorism preparedness, including research on bioterrorism-related diseases, treatments, and vaccines, the announcement said.
HHS news release