Will low-cost shots for restaurant workers tame the hepatitis A outbreak?

Against the Grain | Courtesy of “Beer with a Scientist”

The city is taking aim at the hepatitis A outbreak by offering low-cost vaccination shots to food-service and hospitality industry workers such as restaurant employees.

The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness and the University of Louisville Global Health Center have teamed up to provide the service at a discounted price of $25 per shot, with the restaurant or business paying the fee.

“It’s a significant discount,” said health department spokesman Dave Langdon, noting that the typical rate is more like $65 to $100 a dose.

Against the Grain, a Louisville brewery and restaurant, is among the businesses that have stepped up to get some workers vaccinated.

“We care for our employees and want them to be well and we care for our customers and want them to be well,” co-owner Adam Watson said. ” … Any place that handles food, it’s probably a wise decision to try and get this done.”

The discounted shots are part of an effort to stop an outbreak that has led to nearly 200 cases of acute hepatitis A in the Louisville area, according to the health department. At least one person has died.

Locally, the highly contagious liver infection mainly has stricken the homeless and people who use drugs. It’s usually spread when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated with small amounts of stool from an infected person, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health department and its partners have given shots to thousands of people at high risk, such as the homeless, and is urging restaurants and other food handlers to practice good sanitation and hygiene as the Kentucky Derby approaches in May.

Also, by taking advantage of the discounted shots, businesses “certainly would be helping to prevent the spread of hepatitis A throughout the community,” Langdon said. “Also, they would be protecting themselves against the potential bad publicity and loss of business that might come with having one of their workers identified with being infected with hepatitis A.”

The Kentucky Restaurant Association is helping to spread the word about the campaign as is the Louisville Food Truck Association, the health department said.

“Our members want to be proactive by offering the resource or bringing nurses to their restaurants to administer the vaccines,” restaurant association President Stacy Roof said in an email.

Against the Grain hopes to set an example for others. “Especially entering Derby season where we have so many tourists coming to town, it’s important for us to all kind of get ahead of this,” Watson said. “So I’ve certainly personally reached out to a lot of other breweries and restaurant owners that I know and encouraged them to take advantage of it.”

The discounted shots are possible, Langdon said, because “we’re using our own funds and we’ve also gotten some donations from throughout the community that we’re able to use.”

Getting the shots

Businesses that want to take advantage of the discounted shots can call UofL’s Ruth Carrico at (502) 852-1324. If you have more than 20 employees, nurses can come to the workplace. Businesses with fewer than 20 can send their employees to UofL’s walk-in clinic.

Establishments with 200 or more employees — and the health-service capability to assist with vaccination — may call Ken Luther at (502) 574-6648.