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UK babies to be routinely immunised against hepatitis B

Published on 01/08/17 at 09:51am

As of today, all babies born in the UK will be administered with the vaccine for hepatitis B, with the jab being added to the five-in-one jab used for routine immunisations in newborns. The move represents a bid to reduce the widespread risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis, and makes the UK one of the last European countries to offer the preventative treatment after the WHO originally recommended it 1992.

The new hexavalent vaccine will tackle hep B in addition to providing the existing protection against five conditions, including tetanus, polio, whooping cough, diphtheria and haemophilus influenzae type b, and will be administered at the age of eight, twelve and sixteen weeks. The vaccine contains no live organisms, protecting any infants from inadvertently contracting any of the diseases.

Previously, the hep B vaccine was only offered to those who were considered high-risk, such as those whose mothers were infected. The virus is generally quite rare in the UK, but shows greater prevalence in certain groups, such as those who inject drugs, or were born in a country where it is more common.

A statement from Public Health England (PHE) read: “People with hepatitis B infection may not be aware they are infected as infection mostly has no symptoms. As adults are the majority of infected individuals, vaccinating children will protect them in childhood from potential exposure to infected household or family members. Vaccinating infants will essentially reduce the risk of infection and will provide longer-term protection against future exposure risks.”

PHE’s Sema Mandal, a Consultant in Immunisation, Hepatitis and Blood Safety added: “This has had a major impact on preventing infection in many countries. While hepatitis B is relatively uncommon in the UK, it is a major cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer globally. From this autumn children in the UK will also be able to benefit from this safe and effective vaccine.”

Matt Fellows

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