Bill to Ensure Rapid Response to Health Emergencies Approved in Legislature, Heads to Governor’s Desk
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would give the Governor and the State Commissioner of Health greater authority to declare a public health emergency and give them access to the tools necessary to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the emergency was approved by the Senate by a vote of 38-0, giving it final legislative approval.
“Given the State’s proximity to two major metropolitan areas, and our seemingly constant status as a homeland security target, New Jersey needs to be able to respond to the unthinkable in a heartbeat,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “In the event of a bioterrorist attack, rapid response is essential to protect the health and safety of the nine million residents of the Garden State. Without proper planning and safeguards in place, we’re opening the door to maximize the impact of tragedy.”
The bill, S-2085, would expand the powers of the Governor and the State Commissioner of Health and Senior Services in order to rapidly respond to public health emergencies to include planning and executing public health emergency plans, coordinating public health response between State and local authorities, collaborating with relevant federal authorities and agencies of other states, and organizing and dispensing public information regarding health emergencies.
The bill would also allow for the emergency quarantine of individuals who pose a serious health risk to the general population, and would establish a vaccine education and prioritization plan, such as the one used this past winter to combat the shortage of flu vaccines in the State.
“While this bill has major implications for the most serious homeland security risks, it would also give the State the necessary tools to respond to health emergencies that affect only a segment of the population,” said Senator Vitale. “In the case of last year’s flu vaccines, while it was an inconvenience to relatively healthy people to not receive flu vaccines, for the elderly and chronically ill, a flu vaccine shortage could be potentially deadly. With this bill in place, the Governor could implement a prioritization plan without having to take the time to move a bill through the Legislature.”
The bill is now pending the Governor’s signature to become law. It was approved by the Assembly on Monday by a vote of 73-0, with 6 abstentions.