I’m on the fence about this proposal (boldface mine):
In the past few days, restaurants from a Papa John’s in North Carolina to the La Fontana suburban New York restaurant to a Moose Jaw bar, are issuing hepatitis A warnings due to an ill worker putting customers at risk.
Hardly a month passes without a warning from a health department somewhere that an infected food handler is the source of yet another potential hepatitis A outbreak. Absent vaccinations of food handlers, combined with an effective and rigorous hand-washing policy, there will continue to be more hepatitis A outbreaks. It is time for health departments across the country to require vaccinations of food-service workers, especially those who serve the very young and the elderly.
Hepatitis A is a communicable disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is the only foodborne illness that is vaccine-preventable. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since the inception of the vaccine, rates of infection have declined 92 percent.
CDC estimate that 83,000 cases of hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and that many of these cases are related to food-borne transmission. In 1999, more than 10,000 people were hospitalized due to hepatitis A infections, and 83 people died. In 2003, 650 people became sickened, four died, and nearly 10,000 people got IG (immunoglobulin) shots after eating at a Pennsylvania restaurant. Not only do customers get sick, but also businesses lose customers or some simply go out of business.
Although CDC has not yet called for mandatory vaccination of food-service workers, it has repeatedly pointed out that the consumption of worker-contaminated food is a major cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.
It would probably help, but we’re not dealing with people who chose to become medical professionals: these jobs are often the last resort–you can’t tell someone who doesn’t want to be vaccinated to find another job, as they might not have any other options (economically, they’ve already reached the end of the line). That said, hepatitis A, as the piece notes, is not a trivial infection (though it kills fewer people than norovirus does).