A personal story
Why it is recommended that all newborn babies get vaccinated against hepatitis B?
The short answer:
On a personal level, to protect your baby from hepatitis B, which can cause liver cancer, cirrhosis and liver failure, and ultimately, an early death. On a community level, if enough people vaccinate, we could eradicate the disease, for good.
For a simple presentation explaining the facts have a look at this.
Here are some facts.
- Hepatitis B can survive on surfaces and in droplets of blood for about a week. It is simply not true that it is only transmitted or caught via sharing needles or unprotected sex. This gives several examples of other ways in which people have caught the disease.
- Many people do not know that they are carrying the disease, as you can have it for years before developing symptoms.
- About half of all babies who contract hepatitis B do not catch it from their mothers, they catch it from either another family member or someone else who came in contact with the child. Because hepatitis B can be transmitted by relatively casual contact with items contaminated with blood of an infected person, and because many people who are infected with hepatitis B virus don’t know that they have it, it is impossible to be “careful enough” to avoid this infection. For example, this describes an example of hepatitis B being transmitted between children at a day care centre.
- Every day that the baby is unvaccinated is another day that they are at risk of contracting the disease.
- 90% of people who catch hepatitis B as an infant will end up with chronic hepatitis B infection, and a quarter of those will die early from liver cancer, cirrhosis, or liver failure.
- Targeted hepatitis B immunisation programs didn’t make any difference to the population rates of disease, despite 10 years of trying (targeting groups such as health care workers, sex workers, and iv drug users).
- Hepatitis B can only reproduce and thrive in humans, so if enough of the population is vaccinated, complete eradication of the disease is a possibility (as occurred with smallpox).
- More than 1 billion doses of the vaccine have been used world wide, and the safety record is excellent. Mild fever occurs in 1-6%, and soreness at the injection site in 3-30%. There is a remote risk of serious allergy (about 1 per million doses). If it occurs, this allergy is treatable.
Hepatitis B can be caught easily from birth onwards, from a wide range of sources. Once caught, there is no way for it to be cured, and it can lead to early death from liver cancer, cirrhosis, and liver failure.
It is safe, cheap, and easy to prevent with a series of vaccinations given at birth, 2, 4, and 6 months.
In addition, vaccinating your child will not only protect your child, but it will also contribute towards eradicating this disease.
- NCIRS factsheet, hepatitis B
- The Australian Immunisation Handbook, hepatitis B chapter
- The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia fact sheet on hepatitis B
- The benefits of early hepatitis B immunization programs for newborns and infants
- The epidemiology of hepatitis B and hepatitis B virus infection
- Hepatitis B vaccine: risks and benefits of universal neonatal vaccination
- Hepatitis B vaccination: The key towards elimination and eradication of hepatitis B
- Hepatitis B Virus Infection: Epidemiology and Vaccination
Page reviewed June 2016.