Hepatitis B vaccine shown to be effective for newborns

A recent controlled trial has shown that the recombinant hepatitis B vaccine gives as much protection to newborn infants of chronically infected mothers as it does when given in conjunction with hepatitis B immunoglobin.  

The trial included 222 infants born to mothers who were positive for the hepatitis B surface antigen. Thirty-nine percent of the vaccine-only group and 41 percent of the combination group were still infection free at a minimum of 18 weeks after birth, Dr. Shiv K. Sarin said at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, Internal Medicine News reports.

Currently, the standard of care for mothers with the surface antigen is a combination of the recombinant vaccine plus HBIG, though this and previous studies may show that the vaccine alone is statistically just as effective.

Almost half of the babies in both groups developed occult HBV infections, which occur when babies test negative for the hepatitis B surface antigen but positive for the HBV-DNA when tested using a polymerase chain reaction, Internal Medicine News reports. Overt infection occurs when the infant tests positive for the surface antigen.  

Forty-three babies in the combination group and 45 in the vaccine-only group remained free of either overt or occult HBV infection with an adequate immune response, Internal Medicine News reports.

Dr. Sarin said that the findings should highlight the need to test antiviral agents during pregnancy to prevent cases in which immunoprophylaxis strategies are used but fail, according to Internal Medicine News.