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L.A. County backs off vaccination plan

L.A. County government has no authority to require that all foodhandlers be vaccinated against hepatitis A, public health officials reported Friday. The topic has been a hot-button issue since late February when a prep cook with L.A.-based Wolfgang Puck Catering was diagnosed with acute hepatitis A, potentially exposing 3,500 guests at a dozen special events to the illness. No other infections had been reported to the health department, sources tell Special Events Magazine.

The only body capable of compelling foodhandlers to be vaccinated is the state Legislature, the health department said in a report. The county already requires foodservice workers to report symptoms of gastrointestinal illness to the local health officer, which is how the illness of the Puck employee came to light.


The proposal to require vaccinations, which was floated by one of the five L.A. county supervisors, was controversial from the start. Not only would the cost of the vaccinations be high--possibly as much as $200 a shot--but experts debate how effective vaccination is. Even after being vaccinated, workers might have their hands contaminated by exposure to an ill family member and then pass the infection along to guests. Further, the actual risk of passing infection on to others remains low, according to Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, L.A. County director of public health.

At present, only two jurisdictions in the U.S.--Las Vegas and St. Louis--require foodhandlers to be vaccinated against hepatitis A. For a fact sheet on hepatitis A and foodservice workers, click here.

Photo by© George Mattei

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