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No Booster Needed for Hepatitis B Vaccine?

Vaccination Lasts for More Than 10 Years, Italian Study Shows
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Oct. 13, 2005 -- The hepatitis B vaccine lasts for more than 10 years, so a booster vaccine may not be necessary, Italian researchers report.

"Booster doses of vaccine do not seem necessary to ensure long-term protection," write Alessandro Zanetti, PhD, and colleagues in The Lancet.

The CDC recommends the hepatitis B vaccine for these groups:

  • All babies
  • All children aged 0-18 who haven't already been vaccinated
  • People whose behavior or job puts them at high risk for hepatitis B infection

The CDC doesn't routinely recommend hepatitis B vaccine boosters for people with healthy immune systems.

About Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that attacks the liver. It can cause serious health problems, including liver failure, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death.

The hepatitis B virus is common. About 2 billion people worldwide have been infected, and more than 350 million of them have lifelong (chronic) infections, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The virus spreads through blood or body fluids. For instance, it can spread through sex, shared drug needles, or from an infected mother to her baby during birth.

Vaccination doesn't cure hepatitis B. However, it's 95% effective at preventing the development of chronic hepatitis B infection, states the WHO's web site.

The CDC estimates that 80,000 people, mostly young adults, get infected with hepatitis B virus each year.

Chronic hepatitis B infection is most common in Africa, Asia, the Amazon region, and the southern parts of Eastern and Central Europe. It's less common in Western Europe and North America, states the WHO.

Vaccine Study

Zanetti's study included about 1,200 Italians who had received the hepatitis B vaccine in infancy. An additional 446 participants had been vaccinated as adolescents before joining Italy's air force.

Ten years after vaccination, nearly two-thirds of the kids and almost nine out of 10 Italian air force recruits still showed immunity against hepatitis B.

It's not yet known if the vaccine will last a lifetime, writes Zanetti, who works at Italy's University of Milan.

Second Opinion

The findings are supported in an editorial in The Lancet.

The editorial writers included Ding-Shinn Chen, MD, a professor and hepatitis expert at the National Taiwan University's medical school.

Chen and colleagues didn't work on the Italian study. They call for continued monitoring of hepatitis B infection in various countries.

"Unless accumulating data show a significant increase in hepatitis B virus infection in adolescents or adults who were vaccinated as children, a policy of booster vaccination in a population should not be recommended," they write.

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