Why I vaccinated my babies against hepatitis B

Many parents (of preemies and term babies too) are all for vaccines, but balk at the hepatitis B vaccine. For some reason, they associated hepatitis B with “other people” or something their baby will be at risk for “later in life,” so why not just wait?

In 2008 (the last complete year for which we have statistics), there were 38,000 new “other people” in the United States.            In 1990, the year before vaccination against hepatitis B was incorporated into the vaccine schedule, there were 232,000. Take a look at the blue line in the graph to the right, it represents reported cases of new hepatitis B infections, and since 1990 is has been steadily decreasing.

Hepatitis B is one of the most infectious blood born infections. According to the World Health Organization it is 50 times more infectious than HIV.  Some people clear the infection (and are only infectious for a short period of time), but others remain chronically infectious and are at risk of liver failure, liver cancer, and death. About 5% of the US population has been infected with hepatitis B and between 800,000 and 1.4 million Americans have chronic hepatitis B. In the Bay Area, 10% of the population has been infected at some point (the highest incidence in the U.S.) and about 80% of liver cancers in the US are due to hepatitis B.

“Okay,” you’re thinking, “The vaccine works and it’s a serious infection, but why not wait? How is my baby at risk?”

Hepatitis B can be transmitted by a very small amount of blood or body fluids. Risks for infection are injection drug use, blood transfusion, sexual contact, getting a tattoo or piercings, barber shop shaving, manicures and pedicures, and improperly sterilized medical and dental equipment. Inconsistent condom use is one of the biggest risk factors. Mother’s with hepatitis B can also transmit the virus to their baby at birth.

In the United States (according to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance), 6% of kids have sex for the 1rst time before the age of 13 (8.4% of boys and 3.1% of girls) and 13.8% of high school students report four or more lifetime sexual partners. 40% of high school students didn’t use a condom the last time they had sex. Nationwide 2.1% of high school students have tried injectable drugs (2.7% of boys and 1.4% of girls).

In Italy, before mandatory vaccination was introduced the incidence of Hepatitis B in 0-14 yr olds was 1/100,000 and among 15-24 year olds 12/100,000. In 2005, after 14 years of a mandatory vaccination policy, the rate in the under 15 year old group dropped to 0.02/100,000 and in the 15-24 years olds dropped to 0.5/100,000. Pretty dramatic reductions.

The thing is, you don’t know when your child will become sexually active, or try a drug, if the person doing their ear piercing was as clean as you’d like to think, or if that kid who bit them at daycare has hepatitis B, of they accidentally used the wrong toothbrush at a sleep over. In the Italian study, simply having dental work or a medical procedure was a risk factor.

So I chose to vaccinate my kids because it reduces their chance of getting hepatitis B by 95%. It’s a simple as that.

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7 Responses to Why I vaccinated my babies against hepatitis B

  1. JL says:

    But if you are worried about something when they are older, why are you vaccinating them during critical brain development periods? Before 2 they will not be sexually active!

  2. Jennifer Gunter says:

    Children get bitten all the time, and a human bite is a very effective way of transmitted hepatitis B. Sharing a toothbrush can also transmit hep B. And, the Italian study quoted simply having a medical procedure or dental procedure as a risk factor. It is a sad comment, but not every medical and dental office is as obsessed with sterilizing as they should be. Most are, but you can’t tell by the waiting room. What if the indicator strips in the autoclave are out of date?

    And vaccines do not affect brain development. So nothing to lose and everything to gain.

  3. medmama12 says:

    Thanks for sharing! I will add this to my arsenal of evidence :)

  4. Mandy says:

    Also, premature babies are at high risk!! They often get blood transfusions while in the NICU.

  5. Peter English says:

    Uptake is best in infancy. The vaccine is less likely to work in adults. In UK the BMA supports universal vaccination – which is also WHO policy; but government policy is to have only targetted vaccination. The problem is that many who should be vaccinated are missed. In any case, so many people work in occupations (such as healthcare) where vaccination is needed that it may not save as much as claimed.

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  7. Pingback: Wondering if you should vaccinate your child? « HEProject

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