Daily Mail 9/11/07
Children 'should be vaccinated against hepatitis B'
By JENNY HOPE
Children may receive a six-in-one jab.
Children should be routinely vaccinated against hepatitis B in a six-in-one jab, an Oxford University disease expert claims.
Dr Andrew Pollard is calling on the Government to immunise all children against the infection, which can cause cirrhosis and lead to liver cancer.
It comes as other experts lobby for youngsters to get routine protection against chickenpox - possibly in the same jab as the controversial MMR (measles, mumps and rubella).
But campaigners claim parents are becoming increasingly opposed to multishot vaccines and fear such a blanket approach could make it difficult to spot side effects and complications.
Jackie Fletcher, of campaign group JABS, said a number of adults given the hepatitis B vaccine had gone on to develop postviral fatigue syndrome.
"We fear the same problem could result from childhood vaccination," she added.
"Our biggest concern is giving more vaccines at the same time when you cannot distinguish between potential adverse reactions from each individual vaccine. Parents don't want this blanket approach."
But Dr Pollard, Reader in Paediatric Infection and Immunity at Oxford University, believes the Government's failure to introduce universal hepatitis B immunisation means most of the population are susceptible to infection.
He points out that the British Medical Association has already called for the vaccine to be introduced into the childhood schedule and wants hepatitis B added to the five-in-one shot giving protection against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Hib (meningitis) and polio.
He writes: "The easiest and cheapest way to implement universal immunisation is to add the hepatitis B vaccine to the current UK primary immunisation schedule in early infancy.
"This would avoid extra visits to the doctor and more injections for the infant."
Although Britain has relatively low levels of the disease, increasing travel abroad and migration means the threat is growing, he warns today in the British Medical Journal.
He writes: "The huge global burden of infection means that growing travel and migration in the 21st century is putting the UK population at risk of exposure to hepatitis B from abroad."
One in three legal migrants to the UK is believed to be chronically infected with hepatitis B, adding to the pool of potentially transmissible infection, he adds.
There are no official statistics available for illegal immigrants.
Hepatitis B virus is most commonly transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, particularly through unprotected sex and the sharing of contaminated needles by drug users or those with tattoos.
Only a tiny amount of blood is needed to transmit the virus because it is so infectious.
It means hepatitis B can be picked up even by using the same razor as an infected person.
It kills up to a quarter of sufferers if left untreated, mostly from cirrhosis, which leads to liver failure or liver cancer.
To improve coverage of children at risk, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is to extend the targeted programme to families with at least one parent from countries with high rates of hepatitis B.
But this "wrongly suggests that hepatitis B is not a concern for the rest of the population", says Mr Pollard, who lists among "competing interests", clinical trials that he has carried out for vaccine manufacturers. (Jabs emphasis)