The majority of newborns are not at risk because, in the United States, hepatitis B is largely an adult lifestyle disease spread through unprotected sex and sharing of intravenous needles.
A newborn is only at risk when the mother is positive for the disease.
Standard prenatal care includes routine blood testing of the mother for hepatitis B. In 2013 1 in 100,000 people had acute hepatitis B and 7.7 in 100,000 people had chronic hepatitis B. According to the CDC, newborns exposed to hepatitis B during birth can be given Hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and vaccination to decrease their chances of becoming a chronic carrier. Consequently, many countries, including Denmark, England, Sweden, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Italy, and Japan, only immunize children born to mothers who test positive for the disease. However, in the United States, all babies are vaccinated for hepatitis B, regardless of hepatitis B status. The U.S. policy of casting the ‘protective’ net so wide could be exposing infants to the unnecessary risks associated with vaccine side-effects.
Keep in mind…
Even when mothers do test positive for hepatitis B, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Viral Hepatitis showed that the practice of administering the vaccine at birth “is not effective in preventing occult HBV infection in babies.”
Results from hepatitis B vaccine safety studies comparing those vaccinated against those not vaccinated have been varied. Some studies have shown an association between hepatitis B vaccination and the development of liver problems. Voluminous research has been published on the possible potentiating role of hepatitis B vaccination in the development of autoimmune disorders such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, macrophagic myofasciitis, thrombocytopenia, and arthritis. Additional studies have raised concerns about the impact of introducing a newborn’s immature system to immunization so few hours after birth.
Making the decision to vaccinate against Hepatitis B
Mothers who meet the recommendations for prenatal treatment are tested for Hepatitis B. The CDC makes the blanket recommendation for all babies to receive the Hep B vaccine to protect babies whose mothers may contract the disease between the time they are tested and the time they give birth.
If you tested negative for hepatitis B during your pregnancy, and do not engage in high risk behavior such as IV drug use or unprotected sex, you may want to consider postponing the hepatitis B vaccine for your newborn.
If you were not tested for hepatitis B, tested positive for the disease, or even if you tested negative but you or your partner engage in high risk behaviors, you should speak with your doctor about the CDC recommendations for hepatitis B vaccination.