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WHO and UNICEF: Hepatitis B vaccination safe

Hepatitis B is a dangerous virus causing liver disease, liver cancer, and even death.  It is estimated that currently more than 2 billion people have been infected globally. Of these, approximately 360 million are chronically infected and at risk of serious illness and death from cirrhosis and hepatocellular cancer, diseases that are estimated to cause 500,000 – 700,000 deaths each year worldwide.

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) infects only humans. The virus is highly contagious and common modes of transmission include mother-to-infant, child-to-child, unsafe injection practices, blood transfusion and sexual contact. The incubation period is 75 days on average, but may vary from about 30 to 180 days.

Universal infant immunization is by far the most effective preventive measure against HBV-induced diseases, and successful hepatitis B vaccination programmes will gradually result in a reduction of HBV-related chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular cancer. So far, more than 177 of 193 countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) and 44 other European countries out of 53 have followed the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation to incorporate hepatitis B vaccine as an integral part of their national infant immunization programmes. 

Routine infant hepatitis B vaccination should be given high priority in countries of intermediate HBV endemicity, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, because an important proportion of chronic infections are acquired through HBV transmission at birth from mother to child and during early childhood. If the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine is given as soon as possible (within 24 hours) after birth, it prevents transmission of the disease from infected mother to their babies, in more than 90% of the cases. That is why nearly all countries with high and intermediate HBV endemicity have introduced newborn vaccination against hepatitis B.

The complete vaccine series induces protective antibody levels in >95% of infants, children and young adults. The duration of protection is at least 15 years and, based on current scientific evidence, lifelong.

Hepatitis B vaccines have been commercially available since 1982. Globally, over 1 billion doses of hepatitis B vaccines have been administered to infants, children, adolescents and adults. It has been proven safe, well tolerated and immunogenic in healthy persons. 

WHO and UNICEF reiterate that the hepatitis B vaccine donated to Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization (GAVI) have undergone an independent review by WHO to ensure their safety and effectiveness and were produced in accordance with the highest international standards. No serious adverse reaction following administration of hepatitis B vaccine in Bosnia and Herzegovina has ever been reported to the World Health Organization since the vaccine introduction into the routine immunization programme.

WHO and UNICEF appeal to all mass media professionals to report responsibly on the issue of vaccination.

WHO and UNICEF would like to reassure the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Government of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Government of Republika Srpska, the Government of Brcko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina of their full support in strengthening immunization programmes and ensuring a healthy and happy future for each and every child in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Haris Hajrulahovic,  Head WHO Country Office for BIH

June Kunugi    Representative   UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina



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