The Manatee County Health Department is offering free vaccinations following a confirmed case of Hepatitis A infection in a food services worker at Anna Maria Island restaurant the Ugly Grouper.
More than 120 vaccinations had been administered by the health department by Friday morning during the first free vaccination event at Anna Maria Elementary School at 47000 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach. The event was scheduled to last until 4 p.m. Another free vaccination event will be held Saturday, July 6, from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Manatee County Health Department’s main office at 410 6th Ave E. in Bradenton. An article in Friday’s Herald-Tribune incorrectly reported that the free vaccinations would be given Sunday.
Tom Iovino, communications director for the Manatee County Health Department, stressed that the case of Hepatitis A is not cause for alarm, but added that preventative care is a safe approach.
“This vaccination effort is being done out of an abundance of caution. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Iovino said. “There’s no need to panic at all; we just want people to know that these vaccinations are available if people want to come get the shot, which we would encourage them to do. We’re giving them away for free — they don’t need to bring their I.D. or anything with them, just bring themselves.”
The vaccinations are usually available at the Manatee County Health Department Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. for $57, but are being offered free through the Saturday event. During normal hours, the health department offers people with restricted incomes the opportunity to pay only the $10 administrative vaccination fee.
The health department recommends vaccinations for patrons who visited the Ugly Grouper before June 22 and have not been vaccinated for Hepatitis A. As a general rule, the department recommends the vaccinations for children at age 1 year, people who are experiencing homelessness, recreational drug users, men who have sexual encounters with other men, people who have direct contact with others who have Hepatitis A and travelers who visit countries where Hepatitis A is common. People with chronic or long-term liver diseases or clotting-factor disorders should also seek vaccinations.
Hepatitis A vaccine may provide protection against the disease if given within two weeks after exposure, so getting the vaccination in a timely manner can be helpful. Patrons should monitor for symptoms of Hepatitis A infection, which can include sudden onset of abdominal discomfort, dark urine, fever, diarrhea, pale white stools and jaundice, which manifests itself as yellow skin and eyes. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek prompt medical attention.
A hotline has been set up for people who have questions about Hepatitis A: 941-748-0747.
“Fewer than 5% of cases are food workers, and to date, the Florida Department of Health has not identified a single case of Hepatitis A transmission from a food worker to a restaurant patron,” said a news release from the Manatee County Health Department.
The Ugly Grouper did not respond to calls for comment, but addressed the health department’s finding in a Facebook post, saying it learned Tuesday afternoon from the health department “of a positive test of Hepatitis A in a member of our serving staff.
“Thankfully, that team member has been treated and we wish them a speedy recovery at home. At The Ugly Grouper, we take food safety very seriously. As a precautionary measure, on that same evening, we instituted a 12-hour deep cleaning process of the entire restaurant. The following morning at 10 a.m., the Health Department confirmed our current practices meet all cleanliness and operational compliance standards. Vaccinations were also offered to the entire staff by the Health Department, which were accepted by all to ensure the continued safety of our staff and patrons,” read the Facebook post.