Municipal, state and federal officials announced various steps Friday to try to corral a deadly outbreak of hepatitis A in San Diego and other areas.
City of San Diego officials announced a plan to allow firefighters and paramedics to administer vaccinations against the disease.
Taking advantage of new state emergency regulations, the city will deploy three-person teams — consisting of a firefighter paramedic, a captain and a registered nurse — to key hotspots within the city like downtown, beach communities and other public areas.
Health officials say immunizing at-risk populations is the best way to stop the spread of the disease, which attacks the liver. The outbreak has killed 18 people and sickened nearly 500 since last November, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency.
Around two-thirds of the cases have occurred among the homeless and/or drug users, according to the HHSA.
"We are pulling out all the stops in our continued push to get more at-risk folks vaccinated as efficiently and effectively as possible," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said.
"While cleaning our streets and providing sanitary places for people to go are important, we need to continue delivering vaccinations to this hard-to-reach population to stop this virus in its tracks," he said. "Giving our firefighters and paramedics the ability to provide critical vaccinations will help ensure we get the job done much faster."
San Diego Fire-Rescue personnel who volunteer for the assignment must complete a four-hour HHSA training session prior to being deployed in the field. Training began Thursday, and paramedics are set to begin vaccinating next week, city officials said.
SDFRD Chief Brian Fennessy said the staffers who go into the field will be drawn from administrative positions.
"Delivering shots is not something new for paramedics in this county," said Fennessy. "Delivering vaccines is."
Vaccines and supplies will be provided by American Medical Response, which provides paramedic services to the city.
The state's moves in reaction to the outbreak were announced by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Besides allowing firefighters and paramedics to provide the shots, he ordered the California Department of Public Health to take all necessary measures to obtain vaccines and prioritize doses for at-risk people, and take control of drug and medical supply stocks.
The governor's office said his proclamation gives the agency the authority to immediately purchase vaccines directly from manufacturers and distribute them to impacted communities.
At the federal level, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, announced that he sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that calls on the agencies to provide additional funding and expertise to help local city, state, and county government officials battle the outbreak.
Issa called on the agencies to provide emergency funding; send additional public health officials, pathologists, epidemiologists, physicians, or other necessary experts available to San Diego to help local experts; develop and present a comprehensive plan of guidance and technical assistance for officials working to contain the outbreak; and assist with public awareness and education campaigns.
The San Diego outbreak was detected in March, and traced back to an origin in November, according to county health officials. A similar strain of the disease has been found in Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Cruz counties.