As urban areas across the United States grapple with hepatitis A outbreaks affecting people experiencing homelessness, Executive Constantine announced he is allocating $375,000 in new funding to expand free hepatitis A vaccinations to help prevent outbreaks in King County.
In April, a King County man living without permanent housing was diagnosed with the disease, heightening concerns about the possibility of a local outbreak. Hepatitis A is highly contagious and can cause severe liver disease.
Since 2017, Public Health – Seattle & King County has held dozens of free vaccine clinics for people experiencing homelessness. This new funding will allow Public Health to intensify and expand hepatitis A vaccination efforts to help reduce the risk for large scale outbreaks.
The source of this funding is King County’s Loss Control Program. Within the Office of Risk Management Services, the Loss Control Program works with King County agencies to identify areas of potential loss and recommend strategies to reduce exposure to liability. It is dedicated to addressing unanticipated risks where advanced planning and budgeting is not possible.
“Providing hepatitis A vaccinations for people experiencing homelessness is an issue of equity, a prudent financial move, and a public health imperative. It’s our duty to protect the most vulnerable among us, and by investing in prevention we may avoid spending millions responding to the major outbreaks we’ve seen in other areas,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.
In 2017 in San Diego County, nearly 600 people were infected with hepatitis A, more than 400 were hospitalized, and 20 people died as the result of an outbreak centered among people living without permanent shelter. San Diego County ultimately spent more than $12 million responding to the outbreak.
“Hepatitis A is highly contagious and has caused serious illness and deaths in recent outbreaks among persons living homeless. Vaccination is the best way to prevent its spread. I thank Executive Constantine for taking early and swift action to allow hundreds of people to access preventative care that would otherwise be difficult for them to attain,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Over the next six months, up to four part-time vaccinators will conduct free hepatitis A vaccination clinics for people experiencing homelessness throughout King County, protecting hundreds more people at high risk for infection. Vaccination teams will work in conjunction with community organizations, shelter operators and low-income housing providers as well as utilizing the Healthcare for the Homeless Network’s Mobile Medical Van to offer vaccines to people living in encampments, villages, and on the street.
Vaccinations for people without permanent shelter can be time-intensive. Multiple visits to shelters and encampments are often required, as staff build trust and provide preventive vaccinations to this highly-mobile population.
In February 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended routine hepatitis A vaccination of persons experiencing homelessness.
More about hepatitis A
Hepatitis A virus infects the liver and can cause illness that ranges from a mild infection that has no symptoms to a more severe illness that can last for months. On rare occasions, hepatitis A infection can cause liver failure and death. People with underlying liver disease and people over 50 years of age are at increased risk for severe hepatitis A infections.
Hepatitis A vaccine has been part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule in the United States since 2006. Most adults were not vaccinated as children.
In 2018 there were fourteen cases of hepatitis A reported in King County and to-date in 2019, there have been 12 cases reported, including one locally-acquired case among a person living homeless.
The above is a press release from King County Executive Dow Constantine. The Auburn Examiner has not independently verified its contents and encourages our readers to verify any information they find may be overly biased or questionable.