Hepatitis B Vaccine for Newborns

image001Hepatitis B virus can cause an infection either in the form of a short, acute illness or a chronic, long-lasting condition that affects the liver. Hepatitis B can cause serious disease in infants, so pregnant mothers who carry the virus must try to protect their babies by being screened and having their babies vaccinated after birth.

What Is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B virus is an organism that infects the liver, causing either a short, acute illness or a chronic, long-lasting disease. A baby who gets infected with the virus may experience a mild condition with no symptoms, but most babies become chronic carriers of the virus and pass them to others. What's worse is that one out of four carriers of the virus eventually develops serious liver disease later in life such as cancer or liver failure. It is important to remember, however, that protection from this disease may be provided in most (95%) cases by getting immunized with a vaccine.

Young children, including infants usually have no symptoms of infection with hepatitis B. However, in 70% of older children, acute hepatitis B infection causes symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Joint pains, muscle aches
  • Stomach aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dark urine
  • Yellowing of eyes and skin

Affected children usually show these symptoms 3 to 4 months after initial infection.

The virus spreads by direct contact with infected bodily fluids, such as blood, saliva, vaginal fluids, semen and breast milk. This is why babies of mothers who have been infected with hepatitis B are at great risk of getting infected at birth.

What Are the Benefits of the Hepatitis B Vaccine?

Just like other vaccines, the hepatitis B vaccine for newborns protects newborn babies from the virus, which causes disease. This means that your baby will have lower chances of suffering from liver damage or even death later in life, due to the infection.

Although transmission of the virus is often associated with risky sexual behavior and unsafe use of needles, many individuals who are affected do neither of these. Babies may contract the disease during birth or during childhood, by being in close contact from other infected individuals. The virus is very infectious, and among the 1.4 million US residents who have it, up to 30% of them acquired the infection during childhood. Although most infected individuals are not aware they are carrying the virus because of lack of symptoms, those who are infected at a young age have a greater risk of developing chronic health problems such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. Up to 3,000 people in the US die annually from diseases related to hepatitis B infection.

Fortunately, since the hepatitis B vaccine for newborns became a regular part of the immunization schedule recommended in the US since 1991, the incidence of infection significantly dropped (94%) among children and adolescents and 75% in the general population. In the last three decades, the number of people who acquired the infection has gone down from about 260,000 to 38,000, notably among young individuals.

What Are the Side Effects of the Hepatitis B Vaccine for Newborns?

HBV is generally considered safe, but like any medication, it has some risks. The following list of possible side effects of HBV may occur in babies as well as adults.

1. Common Ones

Common side effects that occur within one or two days from injection of HBV include:

  • Pain in the injection site
  • Infection
  • Low grade fever
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Tiredness

2. Rare Ones

Rare side effects of HBV include:

Rare Side Effects

Descriptions

High fever

High fever after injection, which may be due to an allergic reaction to yeast.

Anaphylaxis reaction

Anaphylaxis reaction occurs in one in 600,000 adults. Symptoms include rashes, pale skin, feeling faint, rapid pulses, low blood pressure, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing.

Periarteritis nodosum

A reaction resulting in “periarteritis nodosum” (also called “polyarteritis nodosum”) may occur. This autoimmune disease affects the arteries, causing inflammation and can shorten life expectancy.

3. Certain Conditions That Have Not Been Proved

Some reactions possibly associated with HBV have not been proven, including:

  • Arthritis (adults)
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome (adults), which causes progressive weakness of the muscle and paralysis. Recovery may occur over several weeks or few months.
  • SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (babies). Some believe that the timing of the vaccinations and the time SIDS usually occurs.

Some parents prefer delaying hepatitis B vaccination for a few weeks, instead of having their babies vaccinated at birth. They believe that this could avoid problems with breastfeeding, irritability and sickness in their babies. However, you can consult a homeopathic consultant to reduce the vaccination's side effects.

Who Should Not Get the Hepatitis B Vaccine?

Any child who has experienced an allergic reaction to HBV should not receive the vaccine again. Children who are also known to have allergy towards baker's yeast (used in bread) should not receive the vaccine because it contains yeast.

When Do Newborns Get the Hepatitis B Vaccine?

Experts recommend giving three shots of hepatitis B vaccine for newborns. The first one is ideally given at birth. The second dose may be given between the first and second months after birth and the last dose at anytime between the sixth and 18th month of age.

In the US, women are screened for hepatitis B infection during pregnancy. Those who test positive should have their babies injected with hepatitis B vaccine as well as HBIG (hepatitis B immune globulin) at birth for protection.

What Precautions Should You Take?

Small, preterm infants (less than 4.5 lbs) should be vaccinated one month after birth or after they are discharged from the nursery. Furthermore, sick children must wait for full recovery before getting their shots, so they can tolerate the side effects of the vaccine.

If you want to know more about the hepatitis B vaccine for newborns, you can watch the video below: