Why should my newborn get the hepatitis B vaccine?

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is spread when a person comes in contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. The virus can enter the body through cuts or bites on the skin or through unprotected sex with an infected person.

Newborns can get hepatitis B during birth if the mother is infected. However, many people who get the virus don’t know the source of infection. If left untreated, chronic infection can cause serious long-term consequences, including permanent liver damage (cirrhosis) and liver cancer. Infants and children are much more likely to develop these serious complications than adults.

Why get vaccinated?

The hepatitis B vaccine series consists of three doses that provide long-term protection from hepatitis B infection and its consequences. The vaccine is very effective and has drastically reduced the number of hepatitis B infections since it was first recommended for all children in 1991. Since then, new hepatitis B infections have dropped by more than 95 percent. Plus, this is one of just two vaccines that have proved effective in preventing cancer!

When should my newborn get vaccinated?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth. It is the only vaccine routinely recommended at birth because:

– Mothers with hepatitis B are less likely to transmit the virus to their newborn if the vaccine is given soon after birth.
While a hepatitis B screen during pregnancy may have come back negative, the tests are not perfect and lab errors as well as documentation errors do occur. Mothers may also be infected after the screening test. A birth dose of the vaccine acts as a safety net to reduce your newborn’s chances of being infected.

– 2 in 3 children with hepatitis B are born to mothers who are not infected.
These children are infected by family members or close contacts with hepatitis B, some of whom don’t even know they are infected. These children could be protected by vaccination at birth.

– Infants who get a birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine are more likely to complete the vaccine series. 

What are the risks of the hepatitis B vaccine?

The vaccine is very safe and well tolerated. It is important to note that the vaccine cannot cause hepatitis B. Some side effects of the vaccination include soreness in the area where the shot was given, fever and, very rarely (1 of 600,000 doses), an allergic reaction. If you develop signs of an allergic response, including difficulty breathing, wheezing, hives or paleness after any vaccination, seek medical attention immediately.

Where can learn more about vaccines?

Tomoya Hinohara
Medical Student
OHSU School of Medicine

Carrie Phillipi, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital
Director, OHSU Mother-Baby Unit

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About the Author

Tamara Hargens-Bradley is Associate Director of Media Relations for Oregon Health & Science University, OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital. She is the editor of the Healthy Families blog.
Doernbecher Children's Hospital

Doernbecher Children’s Hospital

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