Every year, approximately 820,000 people die from hepatitis B-related complications in the United States. The viral infection can lead to chronic illness and put people at risk of long-term complications like cirrhosis and liver cancer. There’s also a high chance of newborns acquiring the disease from an infected mother at birth.
Fortunately, when administered shortly after birth, the vaccine is up to 95% effective in preventing hepatitis B in your baby. Continue reading to learn more about the benefits of the hepatitis vaccine for infants, including when it should be administered and the risks of delaying it for newborns.
What Is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver. Many people experience acute hepatitis B, with symptoms that last less than six months. These symptoms include fever, fatigue, nausea, jaundice, and joint pain. Others can develop chronic hepatitis B, lasting more than six months and often leading to complications like liver cancer, liver failure, and even death.
The infection is transmitted through direct contact with infected blood or specific bodily fluids. It’s most often transmitted from pregnant mothers to children during childbirth, though it can also be transferred through unsterile medical equipment, unprotected sex, and unsterile needles.
Certain medicines can slow the virus down and lower a person’s risk of getting liver cancer. There are also expensive medicines to help with symptoms. However, the hepatitis B vaccine was created to be an affordable method to prevent people from getting the infection in the first place.
What Is the Hepatitis B Vaccine?
While there is no specific cure for hepatitis B, the vaccine can prevent the infection in most people. It’s now given to most babies at birth in case the mother unknowingly spreads it during childbirth. The vaccine is one of the first ones babies receive, and it works best when two or three shots are administered over the course of several months.
Adults can also get the hepatitis B vaccines at pharmacies. The exact number of dosages a person needs depends on the form of vaccine used. Getting all rounds of the vaccines protects most people from hepatitis B, with protection lasting over 20 years to an entire lifetime.
When Is the Appropriate Time to Provide the Hepatitis B Vaccine for Infants?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccinating your baby for hepatitis B within the first 24 hours of life. The main reason is to prevent the birth parent from passing the infection to the baby, which is called perinatal infection. Without treatment, the baby could develop life-threatening health complications.
Your child will need at least three doses of the hepatitis B vaccine to be fully protected. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends your child get their doses at the following times:
- At birth
- At one to two months of age
- At six to 18 months of age
Newborns who did not get the vaccine at birth should get their first dose as soon as possible and complete the dosages at the recommended intervals. Further, if a pregnant woman tests positive for hepatitis B during delivery or at a routine prenatal screening, the child must receive its first dose within 12 hours of birth.
For preterm infants, U.S. health guidelines recommend getting them vaccinated when they reach a chronological age of one month or at hospital discharge.
Why Are Parents Delaying the Hepatitis B Vaccine?
Parents might be delaying their babies from getting the hepatitis B vaccine in the U.S. for several reasons.
First, only 84%-88% of women in the U.S. report getting hepatitis B screening during pregnancy. And since the infection can take decades for symptoms to appear, many people in the U.S. are unaware that they are hepatitis B positive. Susceptible people are more likely to be infected and less likely to access care to determine whether they have it.
Additionally, some parents also cite age-related safety concerns and vaccine misconceptions. As a result, many parents are delaying the hepatitis B vaccine in their babies because they are unaware of the risk of spreading the disease and do not recognize the vaccine’s benefits.
What Are the Risks Involved With Delaying the Hep B Vaccine?
When you delay the hepatitis B vaccine in babies, there is a high risk that an infected mother unknowingly passes the virus onto their baby during childbirth. If this occurs, there’s a 90% chance that children under age five contract the chronic form of this infection.
Chronic hepatitis B puts your child at risk of long-term health consequences, like liver failure, cancer, and death. Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer in the U.S., with 5,000-6,000 people dying from hepatitis B-related liver complications every year.
Hepatitis B is a silent epidemic since many people do not show symptoms when newly infected or living with it chronically. Therefore, they can unknowingly spread hepatitis B to others and continue the spread. For people who live with chronic infection but don’t have symptoms, their liver is still being damaged, which can lead to severe liver disease, liver cancer, or cirrhosis.
Additionally, the virus can survive outside the body for a week. That means if someone with hepatitis B leaves blood on a surface, others can potentially contract the disease when they come in contact with that blood. Risky activities like unprotected sex can also increase a person’s likelihood of contracting hepatitis B.
Keeping Your Family Safe With Hep B Vaccines
The hepatitis vaccine for infants has been recommended since 1991, keeping families safe for decades. The vaccine has demonstrated its safety for infants, children, adolescents, and adults, with over 100 million people, including infants, in the U.S. receiving at least one dose of the vaccine since 1982.
Parents who refuse immunizations should understand the benefits of this vaccine far outweigh any risks. While the vaccination may occasionally cause a sore arm, the vaccine is highly safe, and serious side effects are rare.
Read More Popular Pregnancy and Newborn Topics in Americord’s Blog
Delaying the hepatitis B vaccine for your child can have several health consequences. To keep you and your family safe, experts recommend you get screened for hepatitis B during pregnancy and at the time of birth. It’s also essential that your baby receives the vaccine within 24 hours of delivery or when they have reached an appropriate age if they are preterm.
At Americord, we extract, process, and store stem cells from placental tissue and umbilical cord blood. The process is safe, and can benefit your family’s health in the long run. To learn more about our process, call 866-503-6005 today or check out our blog to learn more about popular pregnancy and newborn topics.