We pose this harsh question to our readers today because members of these groups represent most of those killed or sickened in the massive outbreak of hepatitis A in Kentucky, the worst in the nation.
These are the hard numbers: 4,200 diagnosed and 43 deaths. The majority of the cases have been confined to the Louisville area and to East Kentucky.
In fact, the U. S. congressmen representing those regions – Republican Hal Rogers and Democrat John Yarmuth – are asking tough questions about the state’s response to the highly infectious liver virus.
'I am disappointed by reports that clear warning signs and serious alarm bells were not heeded sooner,' Rogers said last week.
Yarmuth said of the situation: “I hope state officials will take ownership in getting to the bottom of what went wrong to ensure additional lives are not put at risk.'
Officials in the Bevin administration circled their wagons last week in criticizing the Louisville Courier-Journal for alleged inaccuracies in a series of articles about the hep A outbreak. The disease reportedly is spread primarily by drug users and the homeless.
The Courier-Journal series found that Dr. Robert Brawley, former chief of the state health department’s infectious diseases branch, recommended nearly a year ago that the state respond aggressively with $6 million for vaccines and $4 million for temporary workers in short staffed local health departments.
Brawley also called for a public health emergency declaration to hopefully trigger federal assistance.
However, Dr. Jeffrey Howard, acting commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health at the time, sent $2.2 million in state funds to local health departments and declined to declare an emergency.
Howard claims he told local health departments he would be willing to seek more funding if needed.
Rogers said he was told by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Kentucky’s response was complicated by multiple factors and that response times in Louisville were much faster than in rural areas of the state.
Both he and Yarmuth called for more federal funding to help states to continue to raise awareness, provide adequate funding and focus on prevention through the delivery of vaccinations.
Yarmuth commended Louisville for administering 100,000 vaccinations. Rogers was able to get $5 million appropriated to CDC to target infectious disease consequences of the opioid epidemic.
In our view, the General Assembly must insist on a complete and candid review of our state’s response to this tragic turn of events and how to avoid future outbreaks, regardless of economic and social conditions.