Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker is tired of the negative attention being drawn to the county over the recent hepatitis A outbreak and says the commission is drafting an ordinance requiring all food service workers to be vaccinated.
The attention comes as a result of two county restaurants being closed temporarily after workers tested positive for hepatitis A.
The positive diagnoses prompted the county health department to require all employees of the businesses to be vaccinated, as well as urging any customers to be vaccinated.
“This has blown up to be more than what it really is,” Brinker said. “There is no proof, not one single case has come from a food worker. Not one.”
Despite rumors, he said the recent outbreak and subsequent ties to restaurants have not had any negative impact on businesses that he has been made aware of.
As the county public information officer, Brinker has been in the media spotlight recently and said the county commission is currently reviewing similar ordinances in other municipalities to draft a vaccination mandate for county food establishments.
He said county officials also have been made aware of public health concerns regarding food safety at the upcoming Washington Town & Country Fair.
“The logistics certainly need to be worked out,” he said. “What does St. Louis and St. Charles counties do? There are definitely models out there.”
Brinker added if and when the commission order is passed, individual food service employers in the county will be responsible for footing the vaccination bills for employees, which cost roughly $105 apiece.
He encourages all employers to be proactive and get their employees vaccinated even before it is required to assure their customers their business is safe.
The vaccination ordinance will be discussed by commissioners toward the end of next week and may appear on the agenda for the Tuesday, July 23, meeting.
County Health Department Director Angie Hittson said the subject of a mandated hepatitis A vaccination has come up more than once in the past seven months.
“I understand it will cost businesses to get employees vaccinated,” Hittson said. “But as a nurse and public health official, I have to weigh-in on the side of preventive measures.”
The health department will look into what grants may be available from the state of Missouri and the federal government to help fund some of the business vaccines and general outbreak costs, but with grant money and staff already stretched thin employers may be on their own.
The Franklin County Health department receives no tax money from residents and no money for the county general fund. Instead, all operations are paid for by contracts, grants and fees for services.
According to the 2019 Franklin County budget, the health department has operating funds of $1,074,380 for this year.
It is unclear now how much the outbreak has and will cost the county once all is said and done.
Although the vaccines being administered by the health department for those in high-risk groups have been supplied by the state, Hittson explained all staffing, equipment and other supplies are added costs to the health department budget.
Add to that lost revenue caused by forced canceling of paid patient appointments will further exacerbate the county’s abilities to combat the hepatitis A outbreak.
“We are overwhelmed with this outbreak,” Hittson said. “We are a small group with a lot of jobs to do and we don’t have the funds other county health departments do.”
She added this is a particularly busy time of year at the health department with back-to-school physicals and vaccines being given.
“Our staff has been wonderful and the state Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has been great to work with,” Hittson said. “This outbreak has taught us how to handle future events and it has prepared us to work more off-site.”
Hittson added this is the worst outbreak the county health department has responded to since the Swine Flu (H1N1) outbreak in 2009.
“The swine flu was harder since it was all new,” she said. “We saw this one coming and had time to get ready for it.”