Immunizing babies against Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B vaccination is given to newborns in many countries around the world (in addition to vitamin K injection). Second and third doses are then given later at the age of one or two month and at 6 months.
Many parents ask the logical question “why should newborn be vaccinated against a disease that is usually derived from a sexual intercourse? Isn’t this overloading the baby and its immunity system at such a young age?”.
In order to answer this question, we have to refer to certain points.
What disease caused by hepatitis B virus?
Hepatitis B is a relatively common virus which is usually transmitted during sexual intercourse and can cause an acute disease or for the person to become a chronic carrier. The symptoms for the acute disease are fever, fatigue and lab results can identify the damage in the liver.
It is possible that the chronic disease will not be manifested for years and sometime along the line will show signs of fatigue, jaundice and lab results will show the damage to the liver (cirrhosis and cancerous growth). It is important to emphasis that a person can be a chronic carrier without any symptoms of the disease for many years.
Another important point is that whilst with adults only a small percentage become chronic carriers, children up to the age of 12 months old are very likely to develop a chronic disease (90%).
How is the virus transmitted?
Although the main channel of transmission is by sexual intercourse, there are a few other ways of contracting the virus:
• Transmission from the mother to the fetus in the birth canal during birht.
• Transmission from an infected family member (sick or carrier). This kind of infection can be caused by wounds or open cuts but also from the use of personal hygiene toiletries such as tooth brushes or towels where the virus can remain viable to up to 7 days.
What type is the Hepatitis B vaccine?
The vaccine is produced by genetic engineering methods and does not contain attenuated virus. In most of the countries it is called ENGERIX-B vaccine.
Any newborn who weighs more than 2kg can receive the vaccine.
In cases where the mother is known to be a carrier, specific antibodies against Hepatitis B should be prescribed (in such cases newborns under 2kg should be vaccinated as well).
The vaccine’s side effects are mainly sensitivity of the area of the intramuscular injection.
How effective is the Hepatitis B vaccine?
The Hepatitis B vaccine is highly effective in the prevention of the disease after birth and thus the importance of vaccinating in a young age.
Why not wait with the vaccine until the baby is a bit older?
In my opinion because the vaccination is safe and highly efficient and because there can be a postnatal transition from a family member, therefore I see no reason to prevent or postpone the vaccine.
What about the “burden on the immune system”?
The phrase “burden on the immune system” is an attempt to personify the children’s immune system. From the very first days of life, the newborn’s immune system is confronted with new antigens and there is no evidence that the hepatitis B vaccine overloads or causes any problem.
My 3 children were vaccinated in this vaccine in time and I recommend everyone to do the same.