Universal HepB Vaccination Provides Long-Term Protection
Jun 21, 2012

In the past, there has been quite a lot of discussion on this blog regarding the Hepatitis B vaccine that is recommended for infants here in the U.S.  Because of this, I wanted to point out an interesting Reuters Health article I read today regarding a new study that was conducted in Taiwan, a country that has historically battled high rates of Hepatitis B infection.
Unfortunately, Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and spreads by contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person.  According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, an estimated 350 million people worldwide have the hepatitis B virus and approximately 100,000 new people are infected each year in the United States alone.  In fact, one in twenty people in the U.S. have been exposed to Hepatitis B. 
Since Hepatitis B infection is a prime cause of liver cancer, and the second most common cancer type in Taiwan, the country began mandating immunization for all infants as of 1984.  Interestingly enough, the current research findings reinforce five previous surveys since 1984, that all found lower infections among those born after the mandate.  In 2009, study participants younger than age 25 were far less likely to be infected than those between the ages of 26 and 30 — who were born before universal vaccination.
As detailed in a recent Reuters Health article, the new study funded by the National Taiwan University Hospital, enrolled more than 3,300 participants under 30. Of these subjects, more than 2,900 — born after the mandate — received at least three doses of vaccine in their first year. Approximately 370 subjects, born before 1984, were not universally vaccinated.  After collecting blood samples throughout 2009, the research team found that less than one percent of the universally vaccinated group carried the virus and were infectious to others, compared with 10 percent of those who weren’t universally vaccinated.  The research also suggests that booster doses were unnecessary, since the infection rate did not increase significantly from 1989 to 2009.
Dr. Yen-Hsuan Ni, the study’s lead author from the National Taiwan University in Taipei, told Reuters Health,

“It’s efficacy in young adults is clear.”

In an email he went on to say that 

 “Universal vaccination in infancy provides long-term protection.” 

Unfortunately, the study also found that most cases of vaccine failure were related to the mother’s status since there were 25 subjects who developed an infection despite getting immunized and 86 percent of those had mothers who carried the virus.  Dr. Ni explains that

 “Mother-to-infant transmission remains the key route of vaccine failure that needs to be overcome.” 

As the Reuters Health article explains, the study – published in the Journal of Hepatology – illustrates how countries can benefit from compulsory hepatitis B vaccination for infants.
Another resource which may be helpful to readers is HepB Moms.  Below is just one of their PSAs encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated.
I would presume that the majority of HepB vaccine rejection here in the US probably has more to do with parents thinking that their children are not at risk of contracting the virus than of an issue of vaccine efficacy.  However, the Taiwan research illustrates how recommendations can positively impact a population who has access to this life-saving vaccine.  Additionally, if parents realize the prevalence of the virus, both here in the U.S. and all across the globe, maybe they will understand and appreciate the benefits of universal vaccination.

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