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700 free vaccines and counting, Pinellas County fighting hepatitis A outbreak on the streets

Health department starts mobile vaccination team
Posted at 12:20 AM, Aug 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-28 04:33:17-04

With a cooler full of vaccines inside a red wagon, the foot team with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County (DOH-Pinellas) is working to eradicate an epidemic of hepatitis A one vaccine at a time.

The program started on June 1. Since then, the teams have given out more than 700 free shots and hundreds of boxes of NARCAN.

The teams talk to law enforcement and gather other intel to locate areas with high drug use and homelessness. Two sectors of the population that are considered the most high risk to contract hepatitis A.

“I feel like their health is the number one priority cause even though they may be homeless I would rather them be healthy as well,” Epidemiologist for the Florida Department of Health, Jalysa Erskine said. “It’s very, very important that we protect them.”

ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska walked the streets of St. Petersburg near Mirror Lake trying to find people to receive the vaccine. Erskine’s team included two nurses Michele Means and Fannie Vaughn. They worked as a team convincing anyone not wanting the shot to rethink their options.

Erskine says there are more than 2000 hepatitis A cases in the county. If she goes to an area of the community to give out a free vaccine and someone in the high-risk category refuses she said her numbers show that person has an 80 to 90 percent chance of ending up in the hospital.

“One simple shot can save their life,” Erskine said. “That’s the reason we always try to come out and get as many people vaccinated.”

RELATED: FREE Hepatitis A vaccine offered in Pinellas County

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, communicable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It is usually transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is a self-limited disease that does not result in chronic infection. Most adults with hepatitis A have symptoms, including fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice, that usually resolve within 2 months of infection; most children less than 6 years of age do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection. Antibodies produced in response to hepatitis A infection last for life and protect against reinfection. The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.

Two men that Erskine approached for the vaccination told her they weren’t sure about whether they wanted the vaccine. About 15 minutes later, after doing some research, they both came back and got the vaccine.

“Why wouldn’t you want to get vaccinated? If you knew that you could stop yourself from getting hepatitis A,” Erskine said.