Hepatitis B has infected at least 2 billion people in the world, chronically infects more than 350 million people, and kills more than 600,000 people each year.
Fortunately, hepatitis B is now a vaccine-preventable disease.
“Since 1982, a hepatitis B vaccine has been available to prevent hepatitis B virus infection. Today, the vaccine is made using recombinant DNA technology and contains only a portion of the outer protein coat of the virus, called the hepatitis B surface antigen. The vaccine is a very safe and effective immunization against a viral infection that can lead to liver inflammation, cirrhosis and liver cancer. ”
PKIDs on The Importance of the Hepatitis B Vaccine
Although the first hepatitis B vaccines were developed in the early 1980s, it wasn’t until 1991 that it was added to the immunization schedule for all newborns and infants.
This universal program proved to be much more effective than the previous selective program that only vaccinated newborns if they were in certain high risk groups. In fact, acute hepatitis B infections in children and teens have decreased 96 percent since then.
Why Do Babies Still Get Hepatitis B?
Tragically, even with routine use of the hepatitis B vaccine, some babies still get hepatitis B infections.
No, it is not because infants and young children are participating in high risk behaviors, like tattooing, body piercing, or IV drug use.
It can happen if a mother has hepatitis B, but doesn’t know it or isn’t managed properly, and her baby misses the preventative doses of HBIG (within 12 hours of birth) and/or first dose of the hepatitis B shot. Or a baby who was exposed to hepatitis B might not complete the three dose hepatitis B vaccine series.
Newborns of mothers with hepatitis B who are highly viremic (they have very high levels of the virus in their blood), which can be detected during viral load testing during the third trimester, might also develop hepatitis B even though they got the proper dosages of HBIG and the hepatitis B vaccine, if they weren’t treated with an oral anti-hepatitis B virus drug, such as lamivudine, telbivudine and tenofovir.
Declining the Birth Dose of the Hepatitis B Shot
If the hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective and can prevent cancer, why do some parents decline their newborn’s birth dose of this shot?
“Over one third of all people who are infected each year with hep B are in the “no risk” category for infection. I’m one of them, and even a year later, I’m trying to put my horrible experience behind me. No one should ever have to suffer through being infected with this virus — it is totally preventable with a series of three shots. “No risk” living is a meaningless term. If you go to dentist, borrow a toothbrush, get your ears pierced, get a manicure, or engage in countless other mundane activities, you could become infected.”
I Was At No Risk for Ever Having Hepatitis B!
These parents who decline the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine are likely influenced by the misinformation that surrounds much of the anti-vaccine movement, including being made to believe that:
- they don’t need it because you can be tested for hepatitis B – but when relying on testing, some newborns who needed preventative treatment with HBIG and the hepatitis vaccine get missed and are at risk for developing hepatitis B.
- it is just an STD vaccine, so they don’t need it because only people who use IV drugs or have promiscuous sex are at risk – except that there are plenty of stories of children and adults getting hepatitis B who weren’t at high risk or didn’t know they were at high risk. And although you won’t get hepatitis B through casual contact, there are cases of people getting infected after sharing a toothbrush or razor, and even after getting bitten. Why would your child share a toothbrush with someone that has hepatitis B? They likely wouldn’t, except that many people with chronic hepatitis B who are contagious don’t have any symptoms, so they might not know to be extra careful.
- it doesn’t work – the hepatitis B works very well and provides long term protection
- it is dangerous and can cause autism, multiple sclerosis, and SIDS, etc. – the hepatitis B vaccine doesn’t include any toxic ingredients, has been used since 1982, and has been shown to be safe
- they don’t need it because hepatitis B is not a serious disease – while many adults with hepatitis B can have asymptomatic infections and completely recover, thousands die each year with acute and chronic hepatitis B. Also, younger children have a very high risk of developing chronic hepatitis B infections, which can lead to chronic liver disease, even cancer. Hepatitis B is a very serious disease.
Of course, these are the typical anti-vaccine talking points they use to help them overstate the risks of a vaccine, while downplaying the risks of a natural infection, to scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your children.
Don’t Skip Your Baby’s Hepatitis B Shot
The hepatitis B vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect your baby from this potentially life-threatening disease and there is no good reason to skip it. Just like there is no good reason to skip your baby’s vitamin K shot.
In the United States alone, more than 2 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B, and each year, up to 40,000 become newly infected and thousands die.
“So what I did on my schedule is, I took a more logical look at hepatitis B, and I realized that babies have no risk of catching this disease, so let’s not do the hep B vaccine while a baby’s young and small and more vulnerable.”
Dr. Bob Sears
It’s not logical to encourage parents to delay a vaccine, tell them there is no risk in delaying the vaccine, and not mention any of the potential risks, especially that kids can sometimes get hepatitis B without engaging in high risk behaviors. From a needle-stick injury in the park to getting bit at daycare by an asymptomatic child whose parents don’t even know that they have hepatitis B, you can’t say that there is no risk.
Of the 40,000 newly infected people with hepatitis B each year, there are thought to be up to 950 infants who develop chronic hepatitis B from an untreated perinatal hepatitis B virus exposure. Even if it is more rare than that, skipping or delaying the birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine is an unnecessary risk.
The AAP, CDC, and ACIP all recommend that newborns should get their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth.
What to Know Your Baby’s Hepatitis B Shots
The hepatitis B vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect your baby from hepatitis B, a potentially life-threatening disease, and there is no good reason to skip their birth dose.
More About Your Baby’s Hepatitis B Shots
- Hepatitis B: What Hospitals Need to Do to Protect Newborns
- To Hep B or Not to Hep B…
- Why Do Newborns Get the Hepatitis B Vaccine?
- Separating Fact from Fiction in the Newborn Nursery: Hepatitis B Vaccine for Newborns
- Why Universal Hepatitis B Vaccination Isn’t Quite Universal
- Hepatitis B Virus: Kids Can Infect Kids
- Hepatitis B In the United States
- I Was At No Risk for Ever Having Hepatitis B!
- Autism causation and the Hepatitis B vaccine: no link
- ACIP – Hepatitis B Vaccine Recommendations
- Study – Elimination of Perinatal Hepatitis B: Providing the First Vaccine Dose Within 24 Hours of Birth
- Study – Estimated Annual Perinatal Hepatitis B Virus Infections in the United States, 2000-2009
- CDC – Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Hepatitis B Vaccine
- Study – Pediatric Injuries From Needles Discarded in the Community: Epidemiology and Risk of Seroconversion
- CDC – Hepatitis B Information
- Unusual Cases of Hepatitis B Virus Transmission in the Community
- PKIDs Pediatric Hepatitis Report
- Ask the Experts about Hepatitis B Vaccines
- CDC – Hepatitis B Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know
- History of the Hepatitis B Vaccines
- State Laws: Hepatitis B Prevention Mandates for Daycare and K-12
- Family Stories – Hepatitis B
- Unprotected People Reports: Hepatitis B
- Maternal Hepatitis B Screening and Reporting Laws and Requirements
- Implementation of Newborn Hepatitis B Vaccination — Worldwide, 2006