What to Know
Nearly 500 cases of Hepatitis A have been reported in San Diego County since November 2016.
Eighteen people have died after contracting the disease, and the emergency health declaration was expanded.
There have been 342 hospitalizations for the reported cases.
With new emergency protocols put in place by the state, San Diego Fire-Rescue personnel will soon be able to administer vaccines to help stop the spread of Hepatitis A amid the outbreak in San Diego.
Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to the statewide outbreak shortly after city officials made the announcement Friday.
The state Emergency Medical Services Authority has temporarily expanded state laws that govern paramedics so they can vaccinate at-risk populations, announced city officials. The process will begin next week.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) Chief Brian Fennessy and the city's ambulance provider, American Medical Response (AMR), launched the new partnership as a result of the emergency protocols.
"Nobody's attempted this before," said Fennessy.
State Assemblymember Todd Gloria advocated for the new protocols in an effort to ramp up the vaccination campaign. The County public health department also appealed to the state for a waiver so paramedics and firefighters could administer the shots, said Fennessy.
"The crews or firefighters are pretty innovative. They’ll figure out ways to approach the community,” said Fennessy. "We're just hoping people will take the offer of these vaccinations."
In the new program, the city will deploy a couple of three-person teams each day. The teams will include a firefighter paramedic, a captain and a registered nurse. They will be deployed to key hotspots determined by the county such as downtown, beach communities and other public areas.
"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," Faulconer said, in a prepared statement. "Giving our firefighters and paramedics the ability to provide critical vaccinations will help ensure we get the job done much faster."
SDFD paramedics must complete four hours of training from the County Health and Human Services Agency before they can work in the field, according to the city. The first training sessions were held on Thursday. Next week, the teams will begin vaccinating at-risk individuals.
"Last week, AMR paramedics were granted state and county approval to move forward with this new program," said Michael Murphy, Regional Director for AMR San Diego.
The teams will offer vaccines to at-risk individuals including homeless people, drug users and professionals who have regular interactions with high-risk groups.
The California Department of Public Health suggests anyone who has been exposed to the virus, and who has not been previously immunized for Hepatitis A, should consider getting vaccinated no later than two weeks after exposure.
"The biggest, best way to prevent the spread is vaccination," added Fennessy.
As part of the effort to combat the spread of Hepatitis A, the city has expanded 24-hour access to public restrooms, installed handwashing stations with the county's help and started sanitizing public sidewalks with chlorine bleach solution three times per week.
Although it is peak fire season in San Diego County, Fennessy said this partnership should have a minimal effect on fire resources because they will use staff regularly assigned to administrative jobs. They also will only be using four SDFD staff members per day, out of nearly 1,300 members in their department.
According to the city, this effort will not cost any additional funding. Faulconer said the city has already spent millions of dollars on combatting the outbreak in an effort to save lives and may continue to do so.
On Monday, more than 200 women and children moved into new homeless shelters in Golden Hill. Faulconer said the effort to combat the outbreak by getting homeless individuals off the streets appears to be helping.
Click here to see a timeline of San Diego County's Hepatitis A Outbreak.
For more information, go to the county's website.