New Jersey will guarantee free swine flu vaccines to the state's 1.3 million uninsured residents and will try to remove all "financial barriers" for anyone else who wants the shot, Gov. Jon S. Corzine and other officials said Thursday.
The announcement comes as the state prepares for the start of school and an expected spike in swine flu cases in the coming months.
"We're going to be making the H1N1 vaccine — if it's proven to be safe and effective — available to anyone who wants it," state Health Commissioner Heather Howard said. "We will be eliminating financial barriers."
Shots for the H1N1 virus are still being tested, but the vaccine is expected to be shipped to New Jersey by early or mid-October.
So far, 17 people in New Jersey have died from the H1N1 virus. Health officials are still tracking the most serious cases but stopped tracking all positive results once they reached 1,000.
New Jersey recently received $16 million from the federal government to help combat pandemic influenza, and Corzine said the state will use that to help pay for the shots.
Corzine and Howard also said the state is trying to make sure all schoolchildren and other high-risk groups — pregnant women, babies and those with underlying medical conditions — receive the vaccine for free if they cannot afford it.
H1N1 shots will be available at county health clinics and through flu clinics set up at drug stores, Howard said. The state is also working to make sure insured residents who cannot afford copays or deductibles are able to get the shot for free, though the details of how the shots will be distributed were still be worked out.
Federal health authorities have been pushing the idea of school vaccine clinics for months.
Corzine said each of New Jersey's nearly 600 school districts will decide whether to offer swine flu vaccinations at school.
"We're not like NYC where we have one big school district," he said. On Wednesday, New York City announced it will offer free swine flu vaccinations to its 1 million-plus schoolchildren.
Districts in New Jersey will also decide whether to close a school once someone has become infected, though Corzine said that would be less likely than when the swine flu first broke out.
"The major lesson that not only New Jersey learned, but the rest of the country learned, is that the rush to close schools is probably not the right policy," Corzine said. "When you close schools, often kids congregate and you actually end up with the same result you would have had by spreading the virus anyway."