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Paramedics To Administer Hepatitis A Vaccines To Homeless In San Diego Amid Outbreak

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Homeless individuals in downtown San Diego. (Photo by Nathan Rupert via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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Paramedics in San Diego have been given authority to provide vaccinations to at-risk populations in an attempt to stall the deadly outbreak of Hepatitis A in the area.

Normally, only nurses and doctors are allowed to administer the vaccines. Paramedics may now provide the vaccines during public events organized to vaccinate high-risk populations, in order to assist the nurses who have already been providing the service. Besides providing more hands to administer the vaccines, paramedics can also offer a new line of communication with the homeless population. "Paramedics are often in communication with this population and, frankly, might be better able to get them to say yes to the vaccine," Assemblyman Todd Gloria told the Times. According to NPR, there have been local complaints of a lack of employed public health professionals to deal with the outbreak, so extending authority to paramedics appears to be a way of addressing this concern.

The Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego has killed 17 people and infected 569 people since November of last year, according to the L.A. Times. A local emergency was declared in San Diego in September, and separate outbreaks have also been declared in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles Counties. Homeless populations and drug-using populations are disproportionately affected by the outbreak.

Since the outbreak began, 15,600 vaccines have been administered during mass vaccination events, according to the County of San Diego Communications Office. Another 22,400 vaccines have been administered through local health care systems. San Diego County has also installed 66 hand washing stations and has distributed thousands of sanitation kits. Rates of Hepatitis A have fallen 95% since the vaccine was first introduced in 1995, and children are regularly inculcated, but many adults remain unprotected.

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The outbreak could last for months or even years, despite preventative efforts, according to the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.