Suspension of Hep B Vaccine Followed by Fewer Vaccinations

The temporary halt in 1999 meant fewer newborns got birth dose in 2000

TUESDAY, May 18, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Fewer newborns in the United States were vaccinated for hepatitis B in 2000 because of a temporary suspension of the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine.

That finding is reported in the May 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The hepatitis B virus is spread via body fluids and can cause liver damage and even liver cancer. However, vaccination effectively protects against infection, and since 1991 US guidelines have recommended that all children receive three doses of hepatitis B vaccine by 19 months of age. In July 1999, the recommendation to start hepatitis B vaccination at birth was temporarily suspended due to concerns about a preservative in the vaccine.

In September 1999, that suspension was lifted when preservative-free hepatitis B vaccine became available.

In this study, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers analyzed the vaccination status of 41,589 U.S. children born before, during and after the suspension of the hepatitis B vaccine birth dose.

"In the year before the suspension, (47 percent) of children received a hepatitis B vaccine dose on the first day. First-day coverage decreased to 11 percent among children born during the suspension. For children born in the six months after, and in months seven to 12 after the suspension, first-day coverage was 23 percent and 33 percent, respectively, compared with baseline at months seven to 12 before the suspension," the study authors said in a prepared statement.

"This reduction represents 750,000 fewer newborns vaccinated during 2000 compared with 1998," they write.

The study also found that in 2000 more than 182,000 newborns were under-vaccinated for hepatitis B at 19 months of age compared with 1998 coverage levels.

"Effective communication messages are a critical component of rapid changes in vaccination recommendations," the CDC authors concluded. They believe a review of communication problems responsible for the 2000 missed vaccinations could aid health officials in tackling future immunization challenges, "whether due to safety concerns, shortages, or changes in disease incidence."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about hepatitis B.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, news release, May 18, 2004
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