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All restaurants should require the hep A vaccine

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

The announcement from the Boyle County Health Department that people who ate at Danville’s Burger King between Dec. 12 and Jan. 1 should get the hepatitis A vaccine has helped raise awareness about the growing presence of the disease in the community, the state and the nation.

It’s also shone a light on a problem that should be fixed: restaurants are not required to ensure their employees are vaccinated for hepatitis A.

Burger King is now requiring the vaccine for its employees, as are around 10 other restaurants in Boyle County, according to Public Health Director Brent Blevins. That’s excellent and welcome news, but it ought to be that way for every restaurant here and around Kentucky and the nation.

There’s really no excuse at this point. Cases of hepatitis A are on the rise. It’s spread primarily through the fecal-oral route, according to the World Health Organization. That happens most easily when someone who has gone to the bathroom and not washed their hands prepares food.

Obviously, restaurant workers are required to wash their hands as part of their job. But there’s no reason to leave the risk of hepatitis A on the table.

Everyone should always drive safely, too. But we would be foolish to require drivers to be safe and not still have air bags and seat belts in our vehicles.

The hepatitis A vaccine ought to be the seat belt of getting a job in a restaurant — it should come standard and be the law. That’s the only real way to eliminate the threat entirely.

We need a law that requires the vaccine for all employees at businesses that serve food and/or drinks. It would also be nice if such a law put in place some funding to cover the cost of the vaccine, at least for employees making under a certain threshold of income.

We’re not hopeful the state legislature could do anything about this issue in their short, 30-day session this year. But restaurants don’t need to — and shouldn’t — wait for the law to force them to do the right thing.

If you are a restaurant owner or manager that doesn’t currently require the hepatitis A vaccine for your employees, you should work to change that. You should also find it in your budget to cover the cost of the vaccines so it won’t come out of your employees’ paychecks.

If you’re a restaurant employee, beyond making sure you wash your hands regularly and staying home from work if you’re sick, you should let your bosses know you would support a requirement to get a vaccine. And you should get the vaccine anyway if you can afford it.