Every year in the United States an estimated 250,000 persons, 35,000 of whom are children, become infected with the hepatitis B virus. About 5,000 die from it. Worldwide, 350 million people are chronically infected, causing 1 to 2 million deaths each year.
Hepatitis B vaccine was recommended for all infants in 1991 in the United States, and within five years it was already making an impact. Hepatitis B cases among children ages 3 to 6 declined 62 percent from 1991 to 1996. Among children ages 7 to 10, hepatitis B cases declined by 27 percent. But the full impact of vaccine usage won’t be seen until the 2010s and ’20s, when children vaccinated today are protected adolescents and adults.
Questions have been raised about whether the vaccine is safe, whether everyone should receive the vaccine even though a U.S.-born child has only a 5 percent risk of infection over a lifetime, and whether the vaccine should routinely be given during infancy when the high-risk period for infection is adulthood. We will answer these and other questions in the sections that follow.
This information is excerpted from the book Vaccinating Your Child: Questions and Answers for the Concerned Parent (Peachtree Publishers, Ltd., 2000). The book’s authors are Dr. Sharon G. Humiston, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at the CDC and the University of Rochester, and Cynthia Good, an award-winning journalist and host of the television show “Good for Parents”.