12/23/11 — Health Department: Vaccine only for certain dates

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Health Department: Vaccine only for certain dates

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 23, 2011 1:46 PM

Officials at the Health Department were apologetic, and maybe even a bit frustrated, Thursday about the brief amount of time they had to respond to a possible case of exposure to Hepatitis A through a former employee at Fruity Yogurt in Goldsboro.

The unidentified woman reportedly no longer works at the shop and has since moved to Johnston County.

The Health Department was notified by the state about the lab results earlier this week, promptly alerting media outlets late Tuesday afternoon. The announcement turned into a firestorm, resulting in "hundreds of calls" to both the Health Department and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

While health officials attempted to be reassuring -- from suggesting that some might not experience any symptoms to noting that most people recover without complications after several weeks -- the one action immediately taken was to schedule a clinic and to offer free vaccines to those who might have been affected.

The hepatitis vaccine, they say, is very effective in reducing the risk of disease when administered within 14 days of the last day of exposure. In this case, the "last day," when the woman worked at Fruity Yogurt, was Dec. 7.

According to a release issued Wednesday afternoon, that means anyone exposed between Dec. 1 and 6 is past the 14-day period and vaccine at this point would not be effective. Those exposed on the 7th needed to be vaccinated on Wednesday.

As the clock ticked down on the deadline, the News-Argus asked Wednesday morning if there would be an extension for those just learning of the exposure. The interim health director replied, "We will be working (Thursday) if someone comes in."

While the Health Department had office hours Thursday, the News-Argus was contacted by disgruntled residents complaining that they had been turned away by staff and advised to either go to their own physicians' office or get the vaccine and submit paperwork to their insurance company.

Several said they were only trying to comply with what the Health Department had advised, and had done so in a timely manner.

"There's nothing we can do for people. They can't receive the vaccine," said Evelyn Coley, interim health director, Thursday afternoon. "The people that ate (at Fruity Yogurt) on the 7th were the only ones that were eligible for the vaccine."

She added that, simply by virtue of the timeline constraints, a vaccine at this point would be ineffective.

"If they would have reported here (Wednesday) and they were sick, they still would have been referred to the doctor," she said.

That is not to say that there is any anticipated outbreak in this community.

"The likelihood of people being sick is not very high from the food handler because allegedly she wore gloves and had good hand-washing," she said. "But from the public health response, the window of opportunity was yesterday (Wednesday).

"It's not that we're not sympathetic, but there's really no treatment that we can provide."