Conference Coverage

ACIP supports hepatitis A vaccine for homeless individuals



Homeless individuals aged 1 year and older should be vaccinated against hepatitis A, based on a unanimous vote at a meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

A binder label reads "Diagnosis: hepatitis" ©vchal/Thinkstock

“It is important that we take a national approach to vaccinating homeless” people, Noele Nelson, MD, PhD, MPH, of the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, said in a presentation prior to the vote, in which all 11 committee members voted in favor of hepatitis A vaccination for the homeless population.

Even limited vaccination will increase the herd immunity of the homeless population over time, she said.

Dr. Nelson presented data on the pros and cons of routine hepatitis A vaccination for homeless individuals aged 1 year and older. The Hepatitis Vaccines Work Group convened four meetings in advance of the October ACIP meeting and reached a consensus that homelessness is an independent indication for hepatitis A vaccination, she said.

If the hepatitis A vaccine is included as an ACIP recommendation, “it is more likely to be considered by homeless service providers,” noted Dr. Nelson. She also cited a low quality of evidence for adverse events associated with hepatitis A vaccination.

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The work group considerations in the wake of a nationwide hepatitis A outbreak earlier in 2018 included the challenges of controlling outbreaks, which can spread quickly among the homeless population because of poor personal hygiene, limited sanitation, and tight living quarters. These factors make the homeless population more reliant on a vaccine for protection. An outbreak in San Diego, Calif., in particular, occurred largely in the homeless population.

“Routine vaccination is a more feasible approach to reach the homeless over time through regular homeless care providers,” Dr. Nelson said. As for costs, integrating vaccination into routine care for the homeless is cheaper and much less disruptive than the cost of responding to an outbreak.

The “cons” of recommending routine hepatitis A vaccination for the homeless population included the challenges of administrative record keeping. However, during the public comment period, Mae Morgan, MD, an internist who is medical director of Mercy Care Decatur Street & City of Refuge in Atlanta, emphasized that local homeless care organizations have procedures to manage routine vaccination. “If anyone is concerned that there is not a network in place, there are health centers to do this [that] would implement the vaccine.”

The ACIP committee members had no financial conflicts to disclose.

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