I can still vividly remember my very first OB appointment after discovering my pregnancy. I went in, buzzing with anticipation at seeing, or even just hearing, the growing life within me. Though it was much too early for all of that, the ‘behind the scenes’ work was very necessary, and not nearly as fun. Pap smear. Blood Draws. Urine Sample. “A full workup” my OB called it. Four weeks later, I returned sporting the slightest hints of a baby bump, and a clean bill of health. I was informed that I had been tested for several STD’s, ones that could potentially impact my child’s life, and that everything was negative.
The news was unsurprising, and all was forgotten rather quickly.
So, imagine my surprise, and utter confusion, when minutes after my son took his first breaths, the nurse came walking toward him with a needle.
“Wait, what’s that?”
“Hepatitis B Vaccine”
Stop. Rewind, and take it back 5 steps.
What is Hepatitis B?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Hepatitis B is a serious, potentially life threatening, viral infection that specifically targets the liver, and can be transmitted to other people through the sharing of blood or body fluids: usually by means of sexual contact, the sharing of needles, or from mother to baby at birth. For the majority of cases, it is an acute, short-lived infection, but in cases lasting longer than 6 months, the likelihood of developing a chronic infection increases sharply.
In acute infections, the symptoms are not severe, ranging from stomach pain, loss of appetite, and low-grade fever. However, if the infection becomes chronic, treatment and protection of the liver is vital, as it can lead to liver cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, and even complete liver failure.
Who is Affected?
In the poorer countries of East Asia and Africa, Hepatitis B remains of great concern with some countries seeing up to 20% of their population affected. In the United States, where we have access to proper nutrition, clean water, and sanitary living conditions, death by Hepatitis B remains virtually unheard of. 1,843 people died in 2014 at the hands of Hep B, giving Americans a 0.0006% chance of dying from this disease.
Also, because virtually all pregnant mothers are tested for the disease in this country, children remain the least affected age group, with only 34 reports of the chronic disease in children under 14 in 2013.
What is the Hepatitis B Vaccine?
Despite the fact that American children remain largely at low-risk for contracting Hepatitis B, the 3-dose vaccine series begins at birth and is completed around 6 months of age. In 1991, the CDC first recommended that all infants receive the Hep B vaccine prior to leaving the hospital after an Immunization Practices Committee meeting determined that there were an “estimated 1 million-1.25 million persons with chronic HBV infection in the United States.” Interestingly, the CDC provides no statistics or sources for these numbers. Just one year prior, vaccine manufacturer SmithKline-Beecham stated in its 1990 hepatitis B product insert that “the CDC estimates that there are approximately 0.5 to 1.0 million chronic carriers of the hepatitis B virus in the U.S. and that this pool of carriers grows by 2% to 3% (12,000 to 20,000 individuals) annually.” One ought to seriously wonder where these statistics have been drawn from, as history clearly shows that hep b incidences have been on the decline since 1985 and, in a 1997 report, the CDC recognized this by stating that “Hepatitis B continues to decline in most states, primarily because of a decrease in the number of cases among injecting drug users and, to a lesser extent, among both homosexuals and heterosexuals of both sexes.” Still, in 1991, the CDC ordered the mass vaccination of infants, though in that year there were only 21,102 reported cases of hep b one year prior. .
Parents may, rightfully, inquire about the potential safety and necessity of a vaccine at such an early age and the safety studies are far from encouraging. In 1986, the vaccine received the FDA’s stamp of approval after only a small number of children were vaccinated, and asked to report any adverse reactions within a 4-5 day time-frame.
Currently, it is recommended that all infants be vaccinated against hep b. In adults, however, only those at risk are encouraged to seek vaccination
This is a very interesting fact to note as, even today, very little is known about the newborn’s immune or neurological function and “one can assume that less is known about their response to vaccines.”
The main argument for the continuation of the mass vaccination of newborns in the country is that the vaccine will protect them later in life, when they may be at higher risk, but less likely to seek protection.
Does it Work?
Some research is beginning to show that during young adulthood, when protection from hep b could prove most useful, children may have little immunity to it. One study examined teenagers 15 years after receiving the full series of the hep b vaccine and found that a “large proportion” of them exhibited waning immunity and could be at risk for breakthrough infection.
More recently, talks of a potential hep b booster have been in the works. After one journal, released by Pediatrics found that only 60% of 14-year-olds responded to the virus (compared with 97% of 5-year-olds) indications of waning immune memory have become even more prevalent. One important fact to note at this point is that there is significant flaw in lumping all participants into one group, without determining risk factors. For example, if 100 people are vaccinated and only 10 contract the virus, then the vaccine is declared 90% effective, but if only 20 people total had ever even been exposed to the virus, then that would make the vaccine only 50% effective. Considering the extremely low risk of exposure to young children regardless of the vaccine, it’s easy to see why numbers like these cannot be accepted at face value.
While the need for a hep b booster has not been clearly established, the CDC does recognize that “Between 30% and 50% of persons who develop adequate antibody after three doses of vaccine will lose detectable antibody within 7 years.”
Is it Worth the Risk?
With the mandating of vaccines, the most important assurance is that said vaccine is safe. The CDC assures new parents that the vaccine is “very safe” and that the most common side effects of receiving the vaccine are a sore arm, or fever.
Many parents today wonder about the rising health problems among our children. Is it possible that many of them may be linked to vaccination?
The National Institute of Health recognized the potential “causal relationship between HBV and serious autoimmune disorders”, autism, and even Bell’s Palsy, a condition my own sister suffered. One study, published in 2009 by The Office Journal of the American College of Epidemiology found that “U.S. male neonates vaccinated with hepatitis-B vaccine had a 3-fold greater risk of ASD, risk was greatest for nonwhite boys.” Another study found that the hepatitis B vaccine is “positively associated with adverse health outcomes” in U.S. children, most specifically arthritis, acute ear infections, and pharyngitis/nasopharyngitis.
Another interesting find, by the National Institute of Health, compared liver function between those vaccinated for hep B, and those who were not. Vaccinated children were twice as likely to suffer from liver problems.
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), the national vaccine safety surveillance program, reports that over 1000 people have lost their lives due to the Hep B vaccine. 835 (or <77%) were under three years old. Sadly, because of the medical community’s general refusal to accept vaccine side effects, these numbers generally will only include those who had immediate reactions to the vaccine. Reactions which occurred days, or even hours, later generally will be diagnosed as SIDS.
Despite the raising questions, and the studies proving that the hep B vaccine may not be as safe as originally thought, it is still recommended that all infants receive this vaccine, despite a mother’s negative test results. As more evidence surfaces, vaccines are only pushed harder, we can see states, like California, beginning to surface with mandatory vaccination laws (and repeal of personal exemptions). It is clear that the medical community will not repeal their vaccines, so parents need to begin exercising their rights. Many parents have no preference, and tend to follow the medical guidelines. As seen above, those cannot always be trusted.
Remember: You can always vaccinate later, but you can never unvaccinate.
Don’t let anyone touch your baby, until YOU are comfortable. And if you are curious, I declined that needle.
Until next time,