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King County to expand free hepatitis A vaccine program for homeless

Four part-time hepatitis A vaccinators will offer services to the homeless over the next six months thanks to funding from King County's Loss Control Program.

King County has allocated $375,000 to expand free hepatitis A vaccinations for the homeless.

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the initiative Wednesday, saying he hoped it would reduce the risk for large scale outbreaks among vulnerable populations.

“Providing hepatitis A vaccinations for people experiencing homelessness is an issue of equity, a prudent financial move, and a public health imperative,” Constantine said in a statement.

The funding will allow four part-time vaccinators to conduct free vaccination clinics over the next six months. Teams will work with community organizations, shelters, low-income housing providers, and utilize the Healthcare for Homeless Network’s mobile medical van to vaccinate people.

Hepatitis A is a virus that infects the liver and can cause liver failure. Since hepatitis A wasn’t a routine childhood vaccination until 2006, many adults may not be vaccinated for it.

In 2018, there were 14 cases of hepatitis A; there have been 12 cases so far this year, according to the King County Executive Office.

Just one of the 2018 cases was a person who was homeless, but the county pointed to outbreaks in other cities that served as a warning. In 2017, nearly 600 people in San Diego were infected with hepatitis A in an outbreak that was centered among people without housing. The outbreak cost the city millions to respond to, according to the executive office.

RELATED: Washington's homeless population drops from 2018

The funding comes from the county’s Loss Control Program, which aims to address unanticipated risks and reduce exposure to liability.