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'Mandatory' Hepatitis A Vaccine Discussion Spurred by Foodborne Illness Outbreaks


Hepatitis A outbreaks in several states have brought attention to the debate on whether or not food service workers should be legally required to get the hepatitis A vaccine.

Recent outbreaks were connected with a Papa John’s restaurant in North Carolina and the La Fontana restaurant in suburban New York, reports Food Safety News.

“Hardly a month passes without a warning from a health department somewhere that an infected food handler is the source of yet another potential hepatitis A outbreak,” explains Food Safety News. “Absent vaccinations of food handlers, combined with an effective and rigorous hand-washing policy, there will continue to be more hepatitis A outbreaks. It is time for health departments across the country to require vaccinations of food-service workers, especially those who serve the very young and the elderly.”

Hepatitis A is spread from person-to-person or through food and water that’s been contaminated. It’s almost always a result of fecal-oral contact. And unlike all other foodborne illnesses, it’s the only one that can be prevented by vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that since the hepatitis A vaccine has become available, the rates of hepatitis A infections have decreased by 92 percent.

“CDC estimate that 83,000 cases of hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and that many of these cases are related to food-borne transmission,” explains Food Safety News. “In 1999, more than 10,000 people were hospitalized due to hepatitis A infections, and 83 people died. In 2003, 650 people became sickened, four died, and nearly 10,000 people got IG (immunoglobulin) shots after eating at a Pennsylvania restaurant.”

But calling for mandatory vaccinations is highly controversial, particularly as the debate rages on about the safety of childhood vaccinations. Despite the lack of credibility surrounding a study claiming that vaccines are likely to be a major cause of autism spectral disorders, many people are opting out of vaccines altogether.

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And while the CDC hasn’t asked for mandatory vaccinations for food service workers, the argument is gaining strength. “Hepatitis A continues to be one of the most frequently reported, vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S., despite FDA approval of hepatitis A vaccine in 1995,” reports Food Safety News. “Widespread vaccination of appropriate susceptible populations would substantially lower disease incidence and potentially eliminate indigenous transmission of hepatitis A infections.”

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