Last year, the Department of Health (DOH) launched a campaign to encourage mothers to have their newborns vaccinated against hepatitis B within the first 24 hours of life. Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is offering the same advice in a recently updated policy statement.
“It is important that no newborn leaves the birth hospital without [the hepatitis B vaccine],” said Dr. Flor Munoz, co-author of the statement and member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases.
Similar to our DOH's policy, the statement recommends administering the first hepa B vaccine within the first 24 hours of life because “this timing maximizes the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing newborn infection.” The previous policy statement had given the option of delaying the vaccine until the first check-up.
A disease that affects the liver, hepatitis B can be passed on to an unborn baby. Few adults infected will exhibit symptoms, so a mother may not know she has the disease until she gives birth. Babies and young children infected with the virus are more likely to get chronic hepatitis B, which last long-term and can cause extensive liver damage, according to the DOH.
Based on data from the Hepatology Society of the Philippines, 90 percent of infected infants and approximately 25 to 50 percent of children between the 1 to 5 years of age will develop a chronic infection during early childhood.
To prevent this, the AAP and the DOH both advise new parents to get newborns vaccinated against the disease. “Hepatitis B vaccine administered after birth is highly effective in preventing newborn infection,” said the AAP. “After completing the full 3 to 4-dose hepatitis B vaccine series, 98 percent of healthy infants achieve full immunity to the virus.”
“Among Filipinos, hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver damage resulting to cirrhosis and cancer,” says Secretary of Health Dr. Paulyn Jean Ubial. She adds that 7.3 million Filipinos are chronically infected with hepa B, and liver cancer is the second deadliest in the list of top cancer deaths.
The hepa B vaccine is listed in the 2017 Childhood Immunization Schedule of the Philippine Pediatric Society, which recommends it to be given at birth. Also to be given to newborns before they leave the hospital is the Bacillus Calmette-Guarin (BCG) vaccine, which protects against tuberculosis, a major health problem in the Philippines. Both vaccines are included in the National Immunization Program. They are available in health facilities, centers and clinics for Filipino children, free of cost.
If you’re worried that your newborn is not ready to get an injection, the AAP reassures parents that the hepa B vaccine is tolerated well by infants. “Hepatitis B can lead to devastating lifelong illnesses or even death, so this vaccine is a critical safety net to protect babies from acquiring a potentially serious infection at the time of birth,” Dr. Elizabeth Barnett, a co-author of the statement and member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Disease.