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Hepatitis B: Your Baby’s First Vaccination?

Posted: Baby Care » Vaccinations | August 29th, 2004



By Patricia Newton

When it comes to vaccinations, more parents are thinking twice before giving their doctor permission to inject their babies. The hepatitis B vaccine is no exception.

What is hepatitis B?

As with other strains of hepatitis, the B strain is a viral infection that can affect the liver. Although many people who contract hepatitis B do not report any symptoms, those who are symptomatic complain of extreme tiredness; decreased appetite; muscle, joint and stomach pain; and diarrhea and/or vomiting. Some may become jaundiced.

Because hepatitis B is a virus, antibiotics are not effective in treating the illness. The virus must run its course while the infected person obtains adequate rest and proper nutrition. The length of time people carry the disease varies, although reports indicate that hepatitis B has rid itself from the body of most people within three months. In some, however, the virus can develop into chronic liver infection and lead to liver damage, liver cancer and eventual death. Those who appear to be most susceptible to these conditions are those who contract the virus when they are infants or children.

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How is hepatitis B transmitted?

Unlike common viruses such as colds, the hepatitis B virus is not easily passed from person to person. Instead, this virus is transmitted through the bodily fluids, such as semen and blood, of an infected person. Infection of hepatitis B can occur through unprotected sex, blood-to-blood contact and the sharing of needles which are not sterile. In addition, a newborn baby can receive the virus during birth if the mother is infected with hepatitis B. This determination can be made prior to labor by a blood test.

The hepatitis B vaccine

It’s easy to conclude that most newborns are not at risk for contracting the virus. An exception to this could possibly be the newborn who lives with an infected person.

The question then arises: if most newborns are not at risk, why is the hepatitis B vaccination the only vaccine routinely administered at birth? It is interesting to note that prenatal screening for hepatitis B is mandatory in only 22 states in the United States, yet childhood vaccination for the virus is now mandatory in 48 states (South Dakota, Montana and Alabama are the exceptions).

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It appears to be irrelevant to the government and drug companies whether or not pregnant moms test positive for hepatitis B; their children are scheduled for vaccination anyway. Perhaps it is assumed that all children, despite their actual risk factors, will adapt lifestyles that place them at high risk for hepatitis B. This conclusion deserves to be questioned, especially considering that the length of time the vaccination actually protects against the virus is relatively unknown.

Concerns about the vaccine

Advocates of the vaccine admit there are possible side effects but state that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the danger of these risks. However, those who have experienced devastating effects which they believe are directly linked to the injection of the vaccination into the immature body of their newborn disagree.

Concerns do exist regarding the safety of the vaccine. Some believe the vaccination has led to cases of neurological disorders including multiple sclerosis as well as chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lymphoblastic leukemia. Furthermore, the National Vaccine Information Center has reported that between July 1, 1990, and October 31, 1998, the United States had 24,775 adverse effects to the vaccine, including 429 deaths.

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If you are uncertain about the issue and are not completely comfortable with having your newborn injected, some options do exist. There is always the choice to wait until baby is older and his organs are more mature before receiving the vaccination. For the baby whose mother tests negative for hepatitis B, this option should not cause much dispute from those in the medical field.

On the other end of the spectrum, you may choose to reject the vaccination altogether and stand against what is probably mandatory within your state. Some parents who go this route cite personal or religious reasons for their rejection of the vaccine. And this refusal may become a problem for those within certain states who enroll their children in day care or school, as well as those who attempt to receive public assistance, such as WIC. Many states have provisions for exemptions. Visit www.909shot.com/state-site/state-exemptions.htm for more information on types of exemptions and a look at what’s available in each state.

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For more information

For more information on the hepatitis B vaccine, visit the National Vaccine Information Center website for their Hepatitis B Information Packet or call them at 703-938-0342.

1. Duclos, P. (2003 May); Safety of immunisation and adverse events following vaccination against hepatitis B.[Electronic version].Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, 2(3):225-31.

2. Geier, MR., Geier, DA., Zahalsky, AC. (2003 Mar); A review of hepatitis B vaccination.[Electronic version]. Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, 2(2):113-22.

3. Hepatitis B Prevention Mandates. (n.d.) Retrieved June 29, 2004 from http://www.immunize.org/laws/hepb.htm

4. Hepatitis B vaccine- should we be doing it? (n.d.)Retreived June 29, 2004 from http://www.homeopathy-academy.org/hepB.htm

5. Kimmel, SR. (2002 Dec 1); Vaccine adverse events: separating myth from reality.[Electronic version]. American Family Physician, 66(11):2113-20.

6. Raffensperger, Ellen Baily, Mary Lloyd Zusy, Lynn Claire Marchesseault, (1986). Clinical nursing handbook, Philadelphia; J.B. Lippincott Company.

7. Thimerosal Content in Some US Licensed Vaccines. (2004 Apr). Retrieved from http://www.vaccinesafety.edu/thi-table.htm

© Patricia Newton

A busy homeschooling mom of three, Patricia Newton has a passion for helping childbearing women and their families. She is the founder of a national program for military families, Operation Special Delivery, and the owner of Proud Pregnancies, and provides doula services as well as childbirth and breastfeeding education in southern New Jersey.

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