Hepatitis B Vaccine For Newborns: Is It Safe?

By:    Published: February 10, 2012

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Just one inevitable part of having children is childhood vaccines. The first dose of one vaccine, the hepatitis B vaccine, is usually given at birth or before the baby leaves the hospital. However, many parents are unsure if this is really necessary and if there are any risks to the baby. The information below should dispel all of the myths surrounding the hepatitis B vaccine for newborns, layout the facts and give parents some peace of mind.

What Is The Hepatitis B Vaccine?

Hepatitis B is a viral infection transmitted through contact with bodily fluids that affects the liver. In the United States, it is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact or needle sharing drug behavior. However worldwide, the most common way to transmit hepatitis B is from mother to child during birth. It can also be spread through saliva, usually human bites, although it isn’t as common.

About 30 percent of those who contract hepatitis B have no known risk factors and the source of the infection is not known.

There are two separate vaccines for hepatitis B, both of which can be given at birth. One is given to prevent the baby from contracting the disease later in life. It is often combined with other common childhood vaccines, though it can also be given alone. The other is given only in cases where the mother has tested positive for the infection, or could have been exposed to the virus. It is called hepatitis B immune globulin. It will not prevent an infection, but it will mitigate the illness that follows.

Points to remember:

  • Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids of an infected person.
  • Spread through sex, drug use, human bites and from mother to child during birth.
  • About 30 percent of those who contract it have no risk factors and the source of infection is unknown.
  • There are two separate vaccines. One to prevent infection, another to mitigate the effects of the infection if exposed.

Why Is It Needed?

Hepatitis B can cause serious damage to the liver, and in the case of infants and small children, it can cause death. Even if a child doesn’t die, later in their life, they could develop cirrhosis of the liver where they are more than 200 times more likely to develop liver cancer.

Because 30 percent of people who present with hepatitis B have no known risk factors and no known cause, it’s important to vaccinate children early to prevent a life threatening infection that could develop at any time.

Dispelling The Myths

There are several myths that surround childhood vaccines. The first is that vaccines are dangerous and cause conditions like autism. To date, there has been no credible evidence found that links any childhood vaccine to autism. The study that ignited the debate decades ago was discredited and retracted, and further studies have shown that there is no link. The hepatitis vaccine does not cause SIDS, hair loss, diabetes, multiple sclerosis or autoimmune disorders, as is claimed by vaccine opponents.

In addition, opponents of childhood vaccines like to point to the numbers of adverse reactions that children have received in relation to the number of children who have been diagnosed with the disease in question as proof that vaccines are unsafe. But the fact that there may be more children who react to a vaccine than there are that contract the disease, is in fact proof that the vaccine is effective, virtually eradicating many very dangerous childhood diseases.

Many parents believe that natural immunity to a disease is better, and on the surface they are correct. Natural immunity to many viral conditions is often stronger than that found in vaccines. The problem is that when a child contracts a disease they are at risk for dangerous side effects, which are not found with vaccines. For example, natural immunity to the chicken pox virus could lead to life threatening pneumonia, and natural immunity to mumps could lead to permanent deafness. In the case of the hepatitis B vaccine, natural immunity could lead to permanent liver damage and liver cancer later in life.

Another very common myth is that vaccines aren’t necessary because the diseases they are supposed to prevent are all but gone. But the very reason for that is the vaccine. Each vaccine was created in response to a serious disease in an effort to stop its spread. The fact that these diseases are not as common as they used to be is proof that the vaccines are effective.

Many of those who are opposed to the newborn hepatitis B vaccine say that by vaccinating the mothers when infected, babies will be protected but this is not true. In fact, selective immunization of high risk groups has been found to be ineffective in stopping the spread of disease, which is why all children are given the vaccine, unless it is found to be unsafe for them.

These are just a few of the most common myths surrounding vaccines. The bottom line is that the disease is always more dangerous than the vaccine designed to prevent it. While some parents may be concerned about vaccinating their child, especially when they are newborns, the reality is that the potential for a newborn with an undeveloped immune system contracting a disease that could be deadly should always be more of a concern

Which Newborns Shouldn’t Get it?

There are some newborns that should not get the hepatitis B vaccine. In particular premature newborns who weigh less than 4.5 pounds shouldn’t be vaccinated at birth, but they should receive the vaccine at one-month-old, or before being discharged from the hospital.

Follow-up vaccines should not be given to infants who are ill, who have known allergies to baker’s yeast, or those who had a reaction to past vaccines.

The vaccines given to newborns, infants and young children were all created to stop the spread of deadly diseases and parents need to understand that not vaccinating their children leave them at great risk of becoming serious ill and in some cases dying. A newborn is too precious to risk on lingering myths and misinformation.

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