A local clinic and the L.A. County Department of Public Health teamed up on Tuesday to offer free vaccines to homeless residents in downtown Los Angeles. The CEO of L.A. Christian Health Centers, Lisa Abdishoo, said her organization was working with the health department to help stem the outbreak of hepatitis A declared by the city on Sept. 19.
Carolyn Chen, a registered nurse at the clinic, said that this might be the first time that L.A. has seen an outbreak on this scale because, in the past, the disease was controlled well by vaccinations.
Abdishoo said that events like this could help improve people's awareness of hepatitis A. She used the platform to inform people about the disease and how they can keep themselves safe:
- How hepatitis A spreads: According to Abdishoo, hepatitis A spreads through inadequate hand washing or contaminated food or drinks. She said that homeless people are more vulnerable because there are not enough toilet facilities or places for them to wash their hands.
- How to prevent hepatitis A: Chen said that hepatitis A spreads mainly through feces. The best way to prevent it is with good hand hygiene, avoiding sexual contact with people who have hepatitis and trying not to share food with other people. Also, Abdishoo said, patients should seek medical attention early if they have symptoms of hepatitis, which are similar to symptoms of stomach flu or skin turning yellow.
- What to know about the vaccine: Chen said that most people get the vaccination when they are children. Those who got their vaccinations on Tuesday, however, should come back in six months and take a second shot. She said that the first shot provides protection in 90 percent of cases, but that it is better to finish the process. Chen said that the shot can cause some patients to feel minor headaches or soreness in their arms, but that those are the extent of the side effects.
L.A. Christian Health Centers said it was on track to vaccinate more than 100 people by the end of the event, as opposed to the 20 it usually vaccinates over the course of a month. The clinic said that part of the reason behind the turnout was that a lot of patients had spread the word among their friends about the free vaccine and that homeless people can't afford the cost of a vaccine.
Henry Lee, who was vaccinated at the clinic, said a friend told him about the event.
"It's a pleasure being here because I can protect myself from a deadly disease," he said.
Lee said the county was doing good by providing free vaccines.
L.A. Christian Health Centers said it wasn't sure it would be able to have another event in the future because it was sponsored by the county as a reaction to the outbreak. The clinic said that anyone who missed the event should try to get to the doctor to get vaccinated.