I’ve been interested in vaccine policy ever since my husband and I were pressured to vaccinate our three-day old son for Hepatitis B–a virus that is almost impossible for him to contract except through intravenous drug use or sexual contact.
The usual argument for giving a low-risk newborn the Hep B vaccine is that a decade or so later, when the kid is approaching his or her teens, he or she may engage in risky behavior. The obvious problem with this argument is that it does not explain why the kid needs to be vaccinated as a newborn and not, say, 12 years later, when the risk of dangerous behavior is much higher and the immune system presumably is much stronger.
Now comes news of a study in a peer-reviewed medical journal which (if I am reading the abstract correctly) suggests that the Hep B vaccine only provides 5 years of protection in most low-risk children, not the 15+ years of protection advertised by some pro-vaccine groups.
The article, “Duration of Hepatitis B Immunity in Low Risk Children Receiving Hepatitis B Vaccinations from Birth,” by Kenneth Petersen and colleagues was published in the July 2004 issue of Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.
On a related note, I was quite interested in this story about a scheme being considered in Britain to mandate vaccination of children against future drug addiction. The vaccines are currently under development; they are expected to become available in two years, at which point they could be required.
Unfortunately, there is really no logical stopping point. Already the Association of American Pediatrics recommends that children receive something like 20 vaccinations by the time they are 2 years old. That number could increase sharply as more vaccines come to the market.
Look, I’m no anti-vaccine absolutist. Both my children have received multiple injections of Prevnar, DTaP, and Hib. My beef is with the physicians who are unwilling to discuss the risks of vaccines, the pro-vaccination groups that provide incorrect information about the duration of protection, and the physicians who refuse to care for children who are not “fully” vaccinated. I also have a beef with the policymakers who pass laws barring children from school if they have not received the Hep B vaccine.
Another related story: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently said that GlaxoSmithKline downplayed the side effects of several of its vaccines. A good reminder that all drugs, including vaccines, have side effects. If your doctor is unwilling to discuss the side effects with you, find another doctor.