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90,000 Hepatitis A follow-up injections coming due in Hawaii

Tuesday, February 14, 2017 0:00
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More than 90,000 people received the first shot of a two-injection Hepatitis A vaccination in the second half of 2016, and that means more than 90,000 follow-up injections are coming due in the Aloha State.

More than two-and-a-half times as many people in Hawaii took Hepatitis A vaccinations this past year compared with 2015, mainly because of an outbreak traced to contaminated frozen scallops that sickened 292 people. Two outbreak victims died.

The Hepatitis A illnesses traced to frozen scallops harvested in November 2015 in the Philippines began June 10, 2016, and continued through Oct. 9, 2016, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. A fast food chain headquartered in Japan — Genki Sushi — served the scallops raw.

When state health officials announced the outbreak and impounded the scallops on Aug. 15, 2016, they began urging anyone who had eaten at any of the Genki Sushi locations in the state to take the post-exposure Hepatitis A vaccination or an immune globulin (IG) shot.

Public took advice to heart
From July through November this past year, health care providers reported administering 90,259 Hepatitis A vaccination injections, according to data from the Hawaii Immunization Registry.

For all of 2016, there were 101,876 Hepatitis A vaccinations recorded. Compared with the 29,347 vaccinations recorded for 2015, that’s an increase of almost 250 percent.

Hawaii Department of Health Officials take questions from reporters Aug. 16 following the announcement that frozen, imported scallops served at Genki Sushi restaurants had been linked to an ongoing Hepatitis A outbreak. Speakers included, from left, Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler, State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park and Sanitation Branch Chief Peter Oshiro.

“The response from the community during the outbreak was tremendous,” Health Director Virginia Pressler said in a recent vaccination reminder notice.

“Healthcare providers, including pharmacists, played a key role in ensuring Hepatitis A vaccine was available for those needing and wanting to be vaccinated. They truly rose to the challenge of vaccinating a large number of people in a relatively short amount of time.”

Many of those same pharmacists and healthcare providers stand ready to administer the second dose of the two-injection vaccination, according to a recent statement from the health department.

Make it easy on yourself
State health officials are encouraging people to return to the same clinic, doctor’s office or pharmacy that administered their first dose of vaccine to receive their second dose. This allows people to use their existing prescription and helps ensure the second round of injections is administered at least six months after the first.

The state health department has a list of vaccinating pharmacies and clinics that can be accessed by clicking here. (Photo courtesy of the CDC)

“While one dose of hepatitis A vaccine provides good protection, two doses are necessary for nearly 100 percent protection and lasting immunity,” Sarah Park, state epidemiologist Sarah Park said in the vaccination reminder notice.

“We’d like to remind people now, if they received their first dose during the outbreak, to get their second dose at least six months after the first one was administered.”

Those not returning to the same location for vaccination should provide documentation of their first dose, if possible, and contact their physician if a prescription is needed. To ensure vaccine availability, contact your healthcare provider or pharmacy in advance.

The state health department has a list of vaccinating pharmacies and clinics that can be accessed by clicking here. Hawaii residents can also call the Aloha United Way information and referral line at 2-1-1 for help finding a vaccination location.

Class action pending for vaccination reimbursements
A seafood importer, a distributor and Genki Sushi are facing a class action lawsuit filed specifically on behalf of people who did not get sick but did receive Hepatitis A vaccinations because of the outbreak.

The Food and Drug Administration posted this photo of Sea Port brand frozen, imported scallops.

Distributor Koha Foods and importer Sea Port Products Corp. are named along with the sushi fast-food restaurant as defendants in the civil lawsuit. When they filed the case Aug. 23, 2016, the attorneys representing the “class” said it could exceed 10,000 people.

“This is quickly becoming one of the largest Hepatitis A outbreaks in U.S. history. Given the number of people that consumed scallops at Genki Sushi and became ill and worked at other restaurants on the islands, we estimate that over 10,000 people needed to be vaccinated to prevent an even larger disaster,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety attorney who joined with a Honolulu law firm to file the class action.

Marler, founding partner of the Marler Clark law firm, is working with the Honolulu firm Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher to help Bryan K. Cuelho, an Oahu resident who ate scallops and other food at the Waikele Genki Sushi restaurant on Aug. 6, and others who took the post-exposure injections.

The civil suit filed in Hawaii’s First Circuit Court seeks compensation for Cuelho and others for medical expenses, lost wages and other damages related to the post-exposure safety measures.

Genki Sushi restaurants feature a conveyor belt delivery system for food, sending plates of raw seafood winding through tables and patrons.

“This is a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of all persons who were exposed, by consumption of adulterated food and drink, to the Hepatitis A virus, HAV, at the defendant Genki Sushi USA Inc.’s restaurants during the exposure period from April through August 2016,” according to the complaint.

“The plaintiff and class-members were required for public health and personal safety reasons to obtain Hepatitis A vaccination or an IG shot — with some persons also getting an HAV blood test — because of their exposure at the defendant Genki Sushi USA Inc.’s restaurants.”

In addition to recovering direct costs incurred by those who received post-exposure injections, the lawsuit is expected to raise public and corporate awareness about Hepatitis A vaccinations, which Marler has been advocating for all foodservice workers for several years.

“As a premier tourist destination, we want Hawaii to have the highest standards in food safety so our guests feel secure. We also want our local people to be taken care of. This suit is a step toward that,” attorney Trevor Brown of Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher said in a news release after the civil case was filed.

Editor’s note: Attorney Bill Marler is the publisher of Food Safety News.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

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