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Health district relaxes immunization rules for food industry

It’s about to get a little easier to take a job in food service and several other industries thanks to regulatory changes by the Southern Nevada Health District.

The changes will eliminate the requirement that people going into food service show proof of a hepatitis A vaccine and drop the health card requirement altogether for several other professions.

“There is really no need now or no public health benefit for mandating people who want to work in the food industry to have to be vaccinated for hepatitis A,” said Dr. John Middaugh, interim chief health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District.

Most of the changes go into effect Wednesday and are part of a broader effort by the health district to streamline safety procedures for workers while protecting public health.

Middaugh said medical data show people working in food service, and massage therapy, reflexology, health clubs, child care, hair care and tattoos, aren’t any more or less likely than the public at large to acquire or pass along diseases like hepatitis or tuberculosis.

So instead of focusing screening efforts so intensely on a few professions, the district intends to spread those efforts more broadly, which could detect higher risk populations elsewhere.

“We have almost eradicated hepatitis, and TB is not being detected among the people coming to the district to get health cards,” Middaugh said. “What we are planning and developing is a comprehensive adult immunization program.”

In addition to lightening requirements for food service workers, the district will drop health card requirements altogether for massage therapists, reflexologists, aestheticians, health club attendants, child care employees, adult group care staff, barbers, and tattoo, body art and permanent makeup artists.

Middaugh said people in some of those occupations, like many health care workers, are required to have screening through their employer, which makes the health district requirement redundant.

Also, tattoo artists still would need to get a body art card, which he said shows they have adequate experience but doesn’t require health screening.

“People who go get a tattoo are the ones who should get a hepatitis vaccine before they go get an invasive procedure like that,” he said.

Reducing health screening requirements isn’t the only change for food service workers. The district has implemented an online food safety course people can take from home to replace a video they had to go to district offices to watch.

After completing the online program, people can print a certificate and take it to the health district and receive their card. The cost is $20 for the program and $20 for the card.

George Harris, owner of Mundo restaurant in downtown Las Vegas, welcomed the lifting of screening that could save each new employee $100 in fees.

But he said it doesn’t go far enough and that the health district should stick to inspecting restaurants and leave the safety training to employers.

“You want to talk about food safety, you have to be in the food business,” Harris said.

He said charging workers a fee for a card that allows them to work is counterproductive and unfair to restaurant employees in low-paying jobs.

“The fact of the matter is they are just extracting money out of poor people’s hands on the premise the government is allowing you to work,” he said. “This is about government control. This isn’t about health and safety.”

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285 .

 

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