Restaurants and other food servers in the region are scurrying to get their employees vaccinated against hepatitis A - and are eager to let customers know once they’ve been inoculated.
On Wednesday, Tidyman’s officials announced they would inoculate 225 employees in Spokane, Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene who handle food.
The grocery chain made the decision after talking to managers and customers, said company spokeswoman Patty Kilcup.
“One of the things you can’t do is lose the trust of your customers,” she said.
The decision by Tidyman’s comes three days after a food handler at a Spokane Valley Rosauers tested positive for the virus. The bakery worker is the latest in a string of Spokane and North Idaho food-service employees to contract the disease.
Tidyman’s, Rosauers, Yoke’s Pac ‘N Save Foods and at least 95 other businesses in the Spokane area have decided to inoculate their workers against hepatitis A, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.
“We moved quick because people were asking about it a lot,” said Brian Veltry, general manager of Frank’s Diner, 1516 W. Second. “People were really pleased and thought it was a real plus that we did the vaccination.”
Advertising hepatitis A vaccinations doesn’t boost business much, but it does give customers peace of mind, Veltry said.
At Pete’s Pizza, 2328 W. Northwest Blvd., a message on a roadside board says “We are 100 percent hepatitis A immunized!” There is also a sticker from the health district on the front door certifying the vaccination and a certificate hanging behind the front counter.
Still, Janine Carlson didn’t notice the signs Wednesday when she sat down for lunch. Despite all the publicity about hepatitis A, Carlson said she doesn’t look for the certificates when she goes to restaurants.
“I don’t really worry about it,” Carlson said. “I don’t think any of us would ever eat out if we knew everything that went on.”
By Wednesday afternoon, 95 area businesses had been certified by the health district as having received hepatitis A inoculations. To qualify for certification, employees were either inoculated by the health district or sent in verification from private doctors.
But the inoculations may not be the panacea they appear to be. Since November, the health district has been trying to persuade businesses with food handlers to voluntarily inoculate employees.
But those participating in the program won’t be required by the health district to make vaccinations a precondition of employment until next year, said Health Officer Dr. Kim Thorburn.
The hepatitis A vaccine is effective in preventing people from contracting the virus or transmitting it, but it does not protect people already exposed.
Proper hand-washing is normally effective in stopping the virus, health officials said.
Although the vaccine is expected to last 10 to 20 years and possibly for life, it is not a quick-fix for restaurants with high turnover unless they vaccinate all new employees, Thorburn said.
At least 20 Spokane area restaurants are requiring new employees to be vaccinated, said Stuart Ellison, president of the Spokane Restaurant and Hospitality Association.
“Most restaurants are pretty committed to it forever,” Ellison said. “It’s not a one-time fix.”
After a flurry of calls about vaccinations, Azteca Mexican Restaurant, 200 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., decided to vaccinate its employees on Feb. 2. They spread the news by word of mouth and a newspaper ad.
Manager Juan Palayo said he’s waiting for a sticker from the health department, and it will go on the front door when it arrives.
At $84 per person, the inoculations for 50 employees cost Azteca more than $4,000, so they want to make sure customers have faith that the food is free of the virus.
“In the long run, I think we’ll save money,” Palayo said.
Thorburn has been urging businesses with food handlers to vaccinate since mid-November through its newsletter, the restaurant association’s newsletter and through a local food advisory committee.
Hepatitis A has an incubation period of two to seven weeks before symptoms appear. Typical symptoms include general aches and pains, nausea, fever and jaundice.
For people who may have been exposed to the virus, immune globulin shots are available at the health district. The shots are effective up to 14 days after the initial exposure. Today is the last day immune globulin shots are available for those who may have been exposed Feb. 5 at Rosauers on 10920 E. Sprague.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BUSINESSES LISTED A list of the restaurants and other food servers in Spokane County that have received inoculations, according to the Spokane Regional Health District, can be read on The Spokesman-Review’s on-line service. The address is www.spokane.net/news/live/immunize.asp. Businesses whose workers recently received inoculations from private doctors may not be on the list until the health district receives confirmation of the vaccinations.