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New Vaccination Fears Over Plan to Give Hepatitis Jabs at Eight Weeks Old
New vaccination fears over plan to give hepatitis jabs at eight weeks oldBy Beezy Marsh and Jo Macfarlane
Last updated at 10:18 PM on 11th April 2009
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Babies could be routinely vaccinated against hepatitis B under controversial plans being discussed by Government experts.
Cases of the disease, a blood infection which is often transmitted sexually, are said to be spiralling in Britain.
An influential committee on vaccination is considering adding it to a combination jab given to babies at eight weeks.
Protection: Children have 32 vaccines by the age of four
This would create a six-in-one vaccine which would also immunise against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and Hib disease – a form of pneumonia.
But campaigners are concerned about the ‘over-vaccination’ of children and fear any complications caused by adding hepatitis B to the jab would be difficult to spot.
By the age of four, a child will have received 32 vaccines, some in multishot jabs including the MMR against measles, mumps and rubella.
The driving force behind the change is concern that infected immigrants are contributing to a rising tide of hepatitis B.
The virus is commonly spread by unprotected sex and needle sharing among drug addicts, and is 100 times more infectious than HIV. The disease can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Because it can be spread by only a tiny amount of blood through cuts and grazes, it is thought children in playgroups could be particularly vulnerable to catching it.
But GP Dr Richard Halvorsen, director of the Babyjabs single vaccines clinic, said he was opposed to the vaccination move.
He said: ‘The children at most risk are born to mothers carrying the virus and they are already given immunisation at birth.’
He said a 2004 study found adults immunised against hepatitis B were three times more likely to develop multiple sclerosis in the three years after vaccination.
The campaign group JABS, said the hepatitis B vaccine had also been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which from this month has greater powers to decide UK vaccine policy, is due to discuss the plans at its next meeting in June.
According to one member of the committee, there is ‘huge pressure’ to introduce a universal vaccination against the infection.
The British Medical Association and the charity Hepatitis Foundation UK have previously called for all babies to be immunised against hepatitis B.
The move would also bring the UK in line with World Health Organisation policy.
Stella Pendleton, from Hepatitis Foundation UK, said: ‘The trouble is hepatitis B is known as a silent killer because there are often no symptoms until real damage has been done. I understand parents’ concerns, but a child vaccinated at a young age will always be protected.’
Andrew Thomson, of the BMA’s Board of Science, said infection rates were spiralling and that treating the infection was costing the NHS millions.
High risk areas for the disease include South Asia, Africa and parts of Eastern Europe. Many migrants from these areas settle in Britain.
The condition can kill five per cent of those who contract it.
The Hepatitis Foundation UK puts the numbers carrying the virus in the UK at 326,000 – double the official estimated figure seven years ago. Data from the Health Protection Agency show there are 700 cases diagnosed each year, 30 of them in children.
A Health Department spokesman said last night: ‘The safety of children is always paramount whenever decisions are taken regarding what vaccines are included as part of the child vaccination programme.’
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