Hepatitis B 'what ifs'

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The risks versus benefits of vaccinating children have weighed heavily on my mind, as a first-time expectant mother and a pediatric nurse. The vaccine that particularly interests me is the hepatitis B vaccine.

While some parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, others are choosing to modify the vaccine schedule. Often for the hepatitis B vaccine this means delaying it until the baby is a few months old or skipping it altogether.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, if a baby is to become infected with hepatitis B, there is a 90 percent chance that he or she will develop a chronic, lifelong infection, compared with adults who stand a 2 percent to 6 percent chance of chronic infection. This is a significant increase, which is why the CDC recommends babies receive the first hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of being born, followed by additional booster shots.

I understand if a baby is born to a mother who is not positive for hepatitis B that the risk of the baby being exposed to infected blood is slim, but there is always the "what if." Since only half of adults with newly acquired hepatitis B virus actually have symptoms, it seems to me there are too many "what ifs" to delay, or refuse, this particular vaccine.




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