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Hepatitis B vaccine: Make sure your baby gets the birth dose

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The Internet isn’t always right — especially when it comes to vaccinations.

For instance, the Web is full of misinformation on inoculations for hepatitis B.

The idea that only intravenous drug users and people that engage in other high-risk behaviors like unsafe sex contract the virus has caused many people to think they are immune. But the facts say differently. Thus, parents must take the necessary steps to make sure their children are vaccinated. In the United States, the hepatitis B vaccine has the potential to prevent thousands of cases of infection each year, many of which would go on to cause death due to cirrhosis or cancer in infants.

Hepatitis B can cause infection at any age. In order to provide a safety net that would protect against the preventable virus, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have strongly recommended that the first of the three doses of hepatitis B vaccines be administered in the newborn nursery — and not be deferred until one to two months of age. The two additional required doses of the vaccine can then be administered at one to two months of age and between six to 18 months, respectively. Babies treated in this manner are afforded greater than 95 percent protection against the virus.

Vaccines that prevent a whole series of illnesses with potentially serious consequences for infants and children are some of the greatest innovations in modern medicine. But, despite the success in eradicating or significantly reducing the occurrence of many diseases, immunizations have frequently been under assault on the Internet, which, at times, is a major source of misinformation.

Overall, the hepatitis B vaccine is virtually free of any serious side effects — other than fussiness and soreness, which usually resolve in 48-72 hours. Despite the absence of data that it caused any harm, thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, has been removed from the hepatitis B vaccine given to infants for over a decade. Even if present, the risk of thimerosal exposure is nowhere close to that posed by consuming various types of fish.

While much attention has been focused on transmission of the virus from mother to infant at the time of birth, two-thirds of cases involve babies born to mothers who are not infected. These infants acquire the virus from close contact with other household members or caretakers who may be carriers, despite not showing any symptoms.

Numerous test results among pregnant women who do not have hepatitis B have been misreported, or in some cases, the wrong tests were ordered — wrongly diagnosing these women as hepatitis B negative. As a result, their newborn infants did not receive vaccines and subsequently developed infection.

Remember that vaccines only work if they are given. Large studies have shown that infants who receive the birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine are more likely to complete the primary series of childhood immunizations — leading to improved health.

Make sure that your infant begins to benefit from this protection as soon as possible after birth. Why leave your baby vulnerable for one- to two-months? Why gamble with your child’s health?

Updated 4:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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