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Do We Really Need Hepatitis B on the first Days of Life?

Hepatitis B is one of the most contagious viral liver diseases in the world today. An cute infection can last a couple of weeks but if the HBV stays in the body for too long, it can turn into a pretty chronic infection that leads to liver cancer, liver damage or even death. This serious infection has only one prevention measure; the Hepatitis vaccine.

The Hepatitis B vaccine is not a usual part of the NHS approved vaccination schedule. The vaccine is only offered when there is a complication or one is thought to be at increased risk of hepatitis B.

There are several categories of people that require Hepatitis B vaccines, most of whom are not children. However, kids under the following conditions need a jab.

• Those born of infected mothers

• Babies born in families where someone is infected

• Children travelling to high risk areas

• Children receiving regular blood transfusions

Hepatitis B, pregnancy and babies

Hepatitis B infection can result into chronic infection in the child or serious disease for the mother. Therefore, it is advised that all pregnant women who stay or visit high risk areas, or is in one of the high risk categories get the Hepatitis B vaccine

So far, there has been no evidence of risks associated with administering the vaccine to pregnant or lactating mother. Since it is made of inactivated bacteria, it poses almost negligible risk to the unborn child.

During pregnancy, a woman undergoes routine tests. One of those routine ante natal tests is the hepatitis B blood test.

If a mother is found to have the infection during one of those tests, the baby is automatically at risk. As such, within 24 hours of birth, the child should be vaccinated. 3 more doses should also follow at 4 weeks 8 weeks and 48 weeks.

Babies born of mothers with particularly infectious virus may also get HBIG injection along with the HepB vaccine. This gives them rapid protection against infection. 

If a child is born to an infected mother, they should undergo a test when 1 year old to ascertain that they are free of the Hepatitis B virus. This should be done after all doses of the vaccine are administered.

What Is Contained In the Hepatitis B Vaccine?

As a parent, you may be wondering whether the Hepatitis B vaccine has aluminum, thanks to the recent safety concerns. As such, you might want to know what makes up this vaccine. Here is a brief of the common ingredients.

• HBsAG or HepB surface antigen – protein from HepB virus

• Aluminum adjuvant

• Potassium and sodium salts as acid regulators

• Yeast proteins used to grow to grow the HepB protein

• Formaldehyde to inactivate the virus 

The HepB vaccines that are used in the UK are free of thiomersal.

The safety of the vaccine

Hepatitis B vaccine is made of inactivated virus. This mean that it will provoke the reaction that a real virus should but it is not harmful since the virus has been killed. You may get some side effects such as soreness and redness at the site of the injection; other side effects are pretty rare. 

Though very rare, some of the side effects include fatigue, skin rashes, diarrhea, high temperatures and a general sickness. There is also a small chance of allergic reaction, like with all other items such a food and medicine. In extremely rare cases, anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) may occur, resulting to life threatening circulation and breathing problems. This reaction can be treated with adrenaline.

In the UK, the total reported anaphylaxis cases caused by all immunization jabs were 130, occurring between 1997 and 2003. All the reported cases survived. Around the same time, more than 117 million doses of the vaccine had been administered, making the cases a small percentage; 1 in 900,000. 

When not to administer the HepB vaccine

There are several instances when it is strictly prohibited to administer the HepB vaccine, whether to an infant or adult. These instances include the following.

If there is any illness causing high temperature. In such a case, the immunization is postponed until the infant recovers completely

If the first vaccine caused a severe reaction to the infant, the successive booster shots should not be administered

Conclusion

The UK is not a high risk area. This means that infants are not at risk and may not be necessary to administer the vaccine. The vaccine should be administered only with expert advice if the baby is born to an infected mother, or will stay with close family members who are infected. If you have any doubts, you can consult your GP to guide you on whether or not a vaccination is necessary.

Eleanor Owen
THORNHAM

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LONDON

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