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Christina Buchman, a clinical assistant professor for Washington State University’s College of Pharmacy, got an email from one of Safeway’s pharmacy managers on Thursday.

The manager was expecting a significant influx of Yakima Valley residents to come for a Hepatitis A vaccination in response to an outbreak within the last two weeks.

Safeway needed extra people to administer the vaccination.

Within a half-day, several students at WSU’s College of Pharmacy in Yakima, with Buchman’s guidance, mobilized and started distributing the vaccine at the pharmacy inside the Safeway store at 205 N. Fifth Ave. The students have been certified to issue vaccines, including the flu and hepatitis A vaccine.

“They love to be out in the community and provide the services,” said Buchman, who is also a pharmacist.

The increased availability of the vaccine will be helpful in stopping the spread of hepatitis A in the coming days. The infection is spread when a person acquires the virus by coming in contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated by feces or stool from an infected person.

On Thursday, the Yakima Health District said five cases of acute hepatitis A were reported within the homeless and illicit drug user population, and there was potential exposure at a Popeye’s location on Nob Hill Boulevard in Yakima.

Restaurant not source

The fast-food restaurant was not the source of the outbreak, Yakima Health District officials said Friday.

The primary source in Yakima likely came from the homeless and illicit drug community, which mirrors similar outbreaks in other parts of the country, said Lilian Bravo, director of public health partnerships for the Yakima Health District.

Lack of access to health services and hand washing makes that population more vulnerable, Bravo said.

It is unclear what caused customers and workers at the Popeye’s location to be exposed to hepatitis A, Bravo said. Regardless, the restaurant has been quick in responding, disinfecting the location and offering a dedicated hotline to answer customer questions. That number is 1-844-944-5444.

The Yakima Health District has recommended that anyone who visited the restaurant between Oct. 23-31 get the vaccine. One dose of the vaccine is 95% effective. A second dose six months later increases the effectiveness to 97%.

To that end, local pharmacies, such as Safeway, are working to make the vaccine available to Yakima Valley residents.

Rite-Aid, which runs several locations in the Yakima area, can offer the vaccine, said company spokesman Chris Savarese.

He recommends calling ahead first, but “we’re prepared with the vaccine if you need one,” he said.

The WSU Pharmacy students will be administering the vaccine at the Safeway on North Fifth Avenue during regular pharmacy hours Saturday and Sunday, said Santos Rivera, a Doctor of Pharmacy student who will be graduating in 2021.

While an outbreak of any virus or illness is not ideal, Santos said he’s grateful that he and his fellow students, who are part of a local student group of the American Pharmacist Association, can respond to the increased need and gain valuable hands-on training.

“Nobody likes to have this situation, but it’s definitely a valuable opportunity for our students to learn,” Rivera said.

Reach Mai Hoang at maihoang@yakimaherald.com or Twitter @maiphoang