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For No Good Reason: The Utterly Misguided Universal Infant Hepatitis B Vaccination Policy

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It was hard to believe from the outset - recommending universal vaccination of infants for a lifestyle disease, one normally involving intravenous drug use or promiscuous sex. 

(It is true that hepatitis B is more often a serious disease for infants when they do get it, compared to other age groups.  However, most infants are at low risk for the disease, almost always having to have been born to a hepatitis B positive mother, and there are tests to determine that.  By screening the moms, only those at risk might, thus, be vaccinated.)

At first it seemed that common sense might prevail, that the dictum "First, do no harm" might hold sway.

Yet despite the fact that hepatitis B incidence and prevalence appears to be greatly exaggerated; that WHO (at least according to GlaxoSmithKline!) recommends infant vaccination in those areas where carrier prevalence is 2% or greater; and that the United States, except for certain ethnic groups in Alaska, is actually considered a low prevalence area for chronic hepatitis, eventually almost everyone caved in. (Read the letters from one honorable doctor who never did.)

What, supposedly, convinced them? Who knows for sure, but the argument was made that infants are easier and cheaper to vaccinate than adolescents.  And, hey, why not vaccinate all infants in order to ready them for that apparently inevitable time when they will all become promiscuous and/or intravenous drug using teens?  Get them when they're available, when you're already vaccinating the heck out of them!  Even easier, do it when they are newborns, when their moms are especially vulnerable to scaremongering. 

This entire policy, however, ill-conceived as it already inherently is, hinges on assuming the vaccine will last long enough to protect them during those presumably high-flying teenage years. 

So what's wrong with assuming it will last that long?  Well, for starters, it's an assumption.  Isn't vaccination policy supposed to be based on solid, scientific evidence, by first testing any assumptions?

Instead, while policy-makers were busy presuming the vaccine would last from infancy through adolescence and basing their 1991 infant hepatitis B vaccination recommendations on that assumption,  it would appear that they were dismissing, ignoring or unaware of the accumulating contrary evidence and questions about the duration of various vaccines, including those for hepatitis B.

And now because of a new BMJ report, we have additional evidence that, even if vaccinating infants made one iota of sense re: protecting teenagers, it may not last long enough to reliably do so.

This might be laughable if the vaccine were harmless.  But it's not.  Already we know there are more reports of adverse reactions from the vaccine than reported cases of the disease in children.  (Click here for some hepatitis B vaccine articles, Congressional testimony, VAERS reports, and personal stories.)

When will this madness end?  When will we become mad enough to end it?

Sandy Gottstein

Date: 9-20-2002