Study Calls Into Question Effectiveness of Hepatitis B Vaccine for Newborns

Hepatitis B Vaccine

Story at-a-glance -

  • Hepatitis B vaccine was not effective in preventing asymptomatic occult HBV infection in babies, which may occur in up to 40 percent of babies born to hepatitis-B-positive mothers
  • Hepatitis B is a primarily blood-transmitted adult disease associated with risky lifestyle choices such as unprotected sex with multiple partners and intravenous drug use involving sharing needles
  • Hepatitis B is not primarily a "children's disease" or one that is a common threat to newborn babies in the U.S.
  • Any protection offered by the hepatitis B vaccine may wane by the time a child reaches his or her teenage years -- the time when acquiring a hepatitis B infection may be more likely
  • More than 1,500 deaths have been reported in the U.S. following hepatitis B shots and at least 60 serious health problems or adverse unintended consequences have been associated with hepatitis B vaccination

By Dr. Mercola

If you are pregnant and will deliver your baby in a hospital in America, it's important to know that the hepatitis B vaccine is given to virtually every newborn in U.S.hospitals — many times without parents' consent — shortly after the baby is born.

Since 1991, a series of three hepatitis B shots has been part of the standard federally-recommended childhood vaccination schedule, with the first dose given within the first 12 hours after birth; the second dose given between one and two months of age and the third dose given between six and 18 months of age.

The time to research the risks versus the benefits of this vaccination is now, before you deliver, so if you conclude, like many concerned health care professionals and educated parents have, that subjecting all healthy newborns  to hepatitis B vaccination within hours of birth is both risky and unnecessary, you can do something to stop it…

New Study: Hepatitis B Vaccination at Birth May Not Prevent Hidden Infections

A new study is raising another red flag that the practice of universally vaccinating all newborn babies for hepatitis B is seriously flawed. The researchers followed 259 babies born to hepatitis-B-positive mothers for two years in order to determine whether vaccinating such babies prevents asymptomatic occult HBV (hepatitis B virus) infection.

Occult HBV infection is diagnosed when a person tests negative for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) while testing positive for HBV DNA. It's thought that the HBsAg mutates in occult HBV such that it can't be detected by conventional lab tests, making it often difficult to diagnose in addition to the fact that rarely are there clinical symptoms associated with occult infection.

The researchers found that while the vaccine may help prevent overt HBV transmission, it was not effective in preventing occult HBV infection in babies, which may occur in up to 40 percent of babies born to hepatitis B-positive mothers.

This was true whether or not the babies also received hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG), which is used to prevent the development of hepatitis B… According to Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC):

" …the finding calls into question the assumption by vaccinologists (absent prelicensure biological mechanism testing to prove the assumption is a correct one) that artificial hep B vaccine-acquired immunity will generate cell-mediated immunity in newborns that is identical to naturally acquired immunity and be protective against infection."

Why Do Babies Born to Healthy Mothers Need a Hepatitis B Vaccine?

Hepatitis B is a primarily blood-transmitted adult disease associated with risky lifestyle choices such as unprotected sex with multiple partners and intravenous drug use involving sharing needles.

In the U.S., hepatitis B has never been endemic and it is NOT primarily a "children's disease" or one that is a common threat to newborn babies unlike in Asia, Africa and the Middle East where hepatitis B is more prevalent.

If a baby is born to a hepatitis-B-positive mother, the disease can be transmitted during birth. For this reason, it's recommended that women be screened for hepatitis B during their first prenatal visit so steps can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission to the baby, should she test positive. This is an important step, as it's possible to have a chronic hepatitis B infection with no symptoms and not know it.

Still, even if a woman tests negative, her baby will still be given a hepatitis B shot at birth in the hospital newborn nursery (unless you firmly request otherwise) as a 'catch all' of sorts. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):1

"Newborns of HBsAg negative mothers should begin the hepatitis B vaccine series before hospital discharge. This practice reduces missed opportunities to prevent transmission in cases of communication errors regarding maternal HBsAg status."

In other words, just in case a pregnant woman's tests were wrong, or she didn't get tested, all babies are vaccinated to help catch the rare 'missed' case of maternal hepatitis B infection.

The federal vaccine policy to give all newborn babies hepatitis B vaccine starting in 1991 was, in part, based on the fact that health officials had failed to persuade adults at high-risk for being infected with hepatitis B (namely, mostly those who are IV drug users or are engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners or prostitutes) to get vaccinated. Infants and children are a much easier population to control, and easier to access.

Still, the number of hepatitis-B-positive mothers giving birth without knowing is far from an epidemic, considering the overall U.S. prevalence of HBV infection in the U.S. population has always been very low - only 4.9 percent.2 Plus, now the new research shows vaccination may not help prevent occult hepatitis B cases in babies anyway… Barbara Loe Fisher stated:

"It calls into question the justification of a universal use policy for all babies born to healthy mothers at birth in order to make sure the babies born to unidentified hep B positive mothers get the vaccine."

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Hepatitis B Shot May Be Ineffective by the Time Your Child Is a Teenager

Another issue to consider if you are weighing the benefits and risks of giving your newborn infant or young child hepatitis B vaccine is that vaccine acquired immunity often does not persist until a child reaches his or her teenage years – the time when acquiring a hepatitis B infection may be more likely. Research shows that by that time, the protection from the childhood vaccine may have long since waned.

One study found that about 15 percent of teens who received the full series of hepatitis B shots as infants tested positive for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), which is an early indicator of infection or a sign that the person is a chronic carrier of the virus.3

This percentage was even higher among teens who had received the hepatitis B vaccine off schedule, or whose mothers were high risk, meaning they tested positive for hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg). In other words, it appears that in many children hepatitis B vaccine acquired immunity does NOT provide lasting protection. It's for this reason that the policy of giving hepatitis B vaccine to all newborns and young children in the U.S. is the least justifiable of any vaccine policy I can think of and certainly the vaccine should not be mandated for daycare or school attendance.

Except in the case of a hepatitis-B-positive mother, the medical justification for vaccinating infants against hepatitis B simply doesn't exist. In addition, the result of this latest study refutes the commonly held assumption that hepatitis B vaccine is effective in preventing mother-to-infant transmission of all forms of hepatitis B.

More Than 1,500 Hepatitis B Vaccine-Related Deaths Have Been Reported

The effectiveness of the hepatitis B vaccine is highly questionable, but this is just one reason to carefully consider its use. Serious side effects and deaths have also been reported following receipt of this vaccine.

For instance, when babies die after hepatitis B vaccinations, most of the time their deaths are automatically attributed to SIDS -- without investigation into whether the vaccine caused the baby's sudden death. When a baby's death is listed as "SIDS," rarely does anyone ask about the deceased infant's vaccination history to find out whether there were symptoms of vaccine reactions before death, even though the biomedical literature has repeatedly signaled this connection.4 According to NVIC:5

"…hepatitis B vaccine-related adverse events reported to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) [include] reports of headache, irritability, extreme fatigue, brain inflammation, convulsions, rheumatoid arthritis, optic neuritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) and neuropathy. There have been more than 1500 hepatitis B vaccine-related deaths reported, including deaths classified as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)."

Further, a study published in Annals of Epidemiology6 found that giving hepatitis B vaccine to infant boys more than tripled their risk for an autism spectrum disorder. In all, at least 60 serious health problems or adverse unintended consequences have been reported in the medical literature in association with the hepatitis B vaccination.7 Common reactions to the vaccine include fatigue, muscle weakness, fever, headache, irritability, and joint pain, although there have been reports of disabling neurological and immunological disorders that have developed following hepatitis B vaccinations as well, including:

Multiple sclerosis (MS) Guillain-Barre syndrome Bell's Palsy
Diabetes Rheumatoid arthritis Lupus
Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia purpura Convulsions and brain disorders such as encephalitis (brain swelling) and brain demyelination Immune dysfunction
Visual and hearing impairments, including optic neuritis Pancreatitis Autism spectrum disorders

A Healthy Immune System Can Resolve Hepatitis B Infection

You may be wondering what, exactly, hepatitis B is, and what a diagnosis means for your health. Hepatitis B is often called "the silent killer" because as many as 95 percent of those with the disease exhibit no symptoms at all, until it's too late. The disease can progress unnoticed for years in some cases, and patients oftentimes learn they have chronic hepatitis B once they develop severe liver damage. Symptoms of hepatitis A and B are very similar and include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

Fortunately, in most cases the hepatitis B infection will resolve on its own provided you have a well-functioning immune system. Symptoms can be relieved by:

If you recover completely from hepatitis B infection, you'll acquire life-long immunity. A diagnosis of chronic hepatitis B, on the other hand, will typically include some form of antiviral medication, and depending on how far along your disease has progressed, you may even require a liver transplant. Even if you have been vaccinated as a child, it's important to remember that you may not be protected from these risks, and could still be infected via IV drug abuse, sexual activity with an infected partner, a blood transfusion with contaminated blood, or even getting a manicure or pedicure

Do You Want to Opt Out of a Hepatitis B Vaccine for Your Newborn?

If you decide the hepatitis B vaccine is not appropriate for your baby, you can amend the "consent for medical treatment" forms you sign upon entering the hospital before giving birth by writing on the form that you do not give consent for your baby's hepatitis B vaccination in the newborn nursery. You should let any nurses or other medical staff taking care of you and your baby know this directly as well.

However, there are reports that some newborns are being vaccinated in the newborn nursery against the parent's wishes. So it is a good idea to keep your newborn with you at all times or have a family member stay with the baby while in the hospital.

That said, as mentioned it is important to be tested for hepatitis B if you're pregnant, as it's possible to have a chronic infection with no symptoms and not know it. If you are pregnant and are a carrier for the hepatitis B virus, your baby could be at risk for being infected during childbirth.

And although hepatitis B vaccines may be "mandated" for your child to attend school or daycare, most states offer different legal vaccine exemptions (medical, religious, and philosophical). On, you can research your state's specific vaccine laws and requirements and find out what kind of exemption to hepatitis B vaccination you are allowed to exercise in your state for your child to attend daycare or school. You can also sign up to be a user of NVIC's free online communications network, the NVIC Advocacy Portal, and take action to protect the legal right to make voluntary vaccine choices in your state.