Correctional officer Douglas Slaten was a participant of the February caucuses in the town of Waukesha, Wisconsin.
He’s pictured with state Reps. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, and Steve Hurtwitz, D-Potterville, at a community meeting days before the opening caucuses.
Slaten, however, was not among the legion of non-voters at the Waukesha Town Hall. He was one of the many corrections officers, medical staff and jail employees who did not receive the vaccination to protect them from hepatitis A.
Slaten, a Sergeant at the Phoenix Correctional Center, believes the concerted effort to halt vaccination campaigns could make another example of life imitating art.
More than 90 percent of municipal clinics in six states — Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Oklahoma — have vaccinated a few thousand correction officers over the past six months, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Illinois is set to finish its round of vaccinations by the end of the year.
The outbreaks were spurred by a state law that was meant to close the hepatitis A epidemic. It barred state and local employees from accessing hospitals or their own offices for treatment and treatment plans at non-state health facilities. State and local officials opened roughly 38,000 health care provider locations to accommodate staff and patients.
Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can cause episodes of acute liver disease, sometimes requiring prolonged hospitalization and costly liver surgery, or chronic liver disease, which can lead to liver failure.
More than 6,600 people in the U.S. have tested positive for hepatitis A, which can occur as recently as the 1990s. The most common hepatitis A viruses is a strain of the virus that is harmful to the liver.
In Arizona, a federal judge ordered that all employees be vaccinated by Dec. 31. Slaten warns that companies should not wait to implement their vaccine program.
“They’re doing everything right. It’s going to catch up to them,” Slaten said. “In states that have not acted, there was a sense that some of them, let’s say they woke up one day and woke up again and let’s say in three months we had a hepatitis A outbreak somewhere in Arizona, there’s a real possibility that we’ll have another case in the prisons.”
Slaten is not alone in his concerns. Wendy Howard of Sherman, Iowa — who lost her son, Dylan Sanger, to hepatitis A in 2015 — said every state worker should be vaccinated. The department she works in just hired an epidemiologist to oversee the department’s surveillance efforts. The vaccinations and outreach program has more than 200 verified cases.
“It’s a public health epidemic right now, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in an office or you’re in the prison department, it’s a public health issue,” Howard said.
Slaten said the Hatch Act and the federal Vaccines For Progress Act have already been violated. The series of laws, which most recently expired in 2015, prevents political lobbying, quid pro quo exchanges and received information.
“Federal employees in particular do not get government buy-in, so then it becomes the employer’s responsibility, and they do the best they can,” Slaten said. “Maybe it won’t help the person with a political boss to stay on a vaccination program, but this isn’t about politics.”
Slaten received vaccinated. Slaten said that the lack of vaccination for corrections officers caught him off guard. Slaten, though, had done good work when it came to outreach, he said.
In Wisconsin, Slaten said he has lived in the state for the last 22 years, before local nurse aides and lay religious ministers administered the vaccinations to his fellow employees.
Slaten fears the biggest of the diseases was not called for much in Milwaukee.