On Dec. 30, the health officer for Princeton sent an email to the state rabies control technician notifying her that the town would be holding a rabies clinic in February. He followed up with another email a month later.
The rabies control technician then reviewed Princeton’s records to try to determine how much vaccine had been used at past rabies clinics, and could find no records.
“I noticed that we have not received clinic report forms from Princeton rabies clinics for the past two years, and there are no records indicating that the leftover vaccine had been returned,” wrote Linda Frese, principal rabies control technician for the New Jersey Health Department, in an email to Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser in a Feb. 4 email obtained by Planet Princeton through the state’s Open Public Records Act.
Several sources told Planet Princeton the rabies vaccine issue that surfaced in February led to the departure of Mark Johnson, the town’s animal control officer for more than 20 years. Town officials said they can’t discuss the separation. Johnson said he was terminated, but could not discuss the issue. Planet Princeton requested a copy of the separation agreement under the state’s Open Public Records Act, and was told there is not separation agreement on file because the agreement is still being negotiated.
The email exchanges between Frese and Grosser show that there were issues with record keeping and proper vaccine storage. But it appears from the emails that Princeton was not alone. The emails also show that recently, the state has been struggling to meet the demand for vaccines for municipal clinics.
In a Feb. 4 email, Frese said she still needed the results of the last two annual Princeton rabies clinics, as well as information about what happened to the leftover vaccines. According to her email, 250 vaccine doses were supplied to the town for a clinic held on April 27 of 2013, and 200 doses were supplied for a Feb. 1, 2014 clinic. It is unclear what happened to the unused vaccine doses, which would cost about $25 to $50 plus office visit fees if administered at a veterinarian’s office.
Frese wrote that in 2012, 84 animals were vaccinated, and 80 were vaccinated at the first clinic in 2011. Thirty doses were used in May of 2011, and 10 were used in September of 2011.
“The (leftover) vaccine was returned on Oct. 26 of 2011, but the vaccine box had mold growing on it, so we were unable to use it because it may not have been refrigerated at the correct temperature as required,” she wrote.
“I also wanted to check to see if you really need 200 for this upcoming clinic, or can you get by with less,” Frese wrote, adding that she hoped other municipalities would return enough unused vaccines to the state to cover all the municipal clinics scheduled for the rest of February of 2015.
On Feb. 11, Frese was still trying to find enough rabies vaccine for Princeton.
“I’m still trying to pull vaccine together. So far I have 140 doses for you and I’m trying to find more, unless you can get by with 140?” she wrote. “I’m waiting on a few more responses, so if I can get another 10 doses today, I’ll let you know.”
Grosser responded that 140 might be cutting it close, but “It’s better than not having any.”
The next day, Frese said she had 150 doses. She asked for old paperwork, and noted that some towns don’t return it.
“If you think you might need more, I might be able to find some next week from the clinics this weekend or next weekend,” Frese wrote. “Also, there should be a stack of books around somewhere because they were never returned, so can you check all the closets and drawers to see if you can find them? I’m short on books because we only get one certificate per dose of vaccine, and a lot of towns don’t return them like they are supposed to. If you can’t find them, let me know.”
Grosser guaranteed that leftover rabies vaccines and records for 2015 would be returned. “I am personally handling all of it, so please let me know a good time for pick up and I’ll adjust my schedule accordingly,” he wrote.
The Princeton rabies clinic scheduled for Feb. 28 was later cancelled even though there was enough vaccine, because by that time Princeton Animal Control Officer Mark Johnson has been put on paid leave over the rabies record keeping and storage issue.
Johnson, who was paid a salary of $49,000, was previously supervised by the town health department. About two years ago, officials and the administration made the decision to move Johnson from health department supervision to police department supervision. It is unclear how that move played into the record keeping issue.