On March 31, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that all adults aged 19-59 years receive a vaccination for hepatitis B.
It also added that adults aged 60 years or older without known risk factors for hepatitis B may get vaccinated.
The agency earlier recommended the vaccination for all infants and children under the age of 19 years and for adults aged 60 years or older with known risk factors.
The CDC said it wants to expand vaccinations because, after decades of progress, the number of new hepatitis B infections is increasing among adults. Acute hepatitis B infections among adults lead to chronic hepatitis B disease in an estimated 2%-6% of cases, and can result in cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death.
Among adults aged 40-49 years, the rate of cases increased from 1.9 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 2.7 per 100,000 in 2019. Among adults aged 50-59 years, the rate increased during this period from 1.1 to 1.6 per 100,000.
Most adults aren’t vaccinated. Among adults aged 19 years or older, only 30.0% reported that they’d received at least the three recommended doses of the vaccine. The rate was 40.3% for adults aged 19-49 years, and 19.1% for adults aged 50 years or older.
Hepatitis B infection rates are particularly elevated among African Americans.
Even among adults with chronic liver disease, the vaccination rate is only 33.0%. And, among travelers to countries where the virus has been endemic since 1995, only 38.9% were vaccinated.
In a 2018 survey of internal medicine and family physicians, 68% said their patients had not told them about risk factors, making it difficult to assess whether the patients needed the vaccine according to the recommendations at the time. These risk factors include injection drug use, incarceration, and multiple sex partners, experiences the patients may not have been willing to discuss.
CDC researchers calculated that universal adult hepatitis B vaccination would cost $153,000 for every year of life (quality-adjusted life year [QALY]) gained. For adults aged 19-59 years, a QALY would cost $117,000 because infections are more prevalent in that age group.
The CDC specified that it intends its new guidelines to prompt physicians to offer the vaccine to adults aged 60 years or older rather than wait for them to request it.
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved both three-dose and two-dose hepatitis B vaccines, with evidence showing similar seroprotection and adverse events.
People who have already completed their vaccination or have a history of hepatitis B infection should only receive additional vaccinations in specific cases, as detailed in the CDC’s 2018 recommendations.
MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. Published online April 1, 2022. Full text
Laird Harrison writes about science, health, and culture. His work has appeared in national magazines, in newspapers, on public radio, and on websites. He is at work on a novel about alternate realities in physics. Harrison teaches writing at the Writers Grotto. Visit him at www. lairdharrison.com or follow him on Twitter: @LairdH.
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