Vaccine Eliminated Hep B in Alaskan Children

Universal hepatitis B vaccination program eliminated hepatitis B infection, and liver cancer cases in Alaska

In the 1970s and 80s, Alaska Native (AN) people residing in Alaska experienced the highest rates of acute and chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in the United States.

Many Alaska Native persons became chronically infected as children prior to the availability of HBV vaccine. An estimated 25% of persons chronically infected as children die prematurely from cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

In 1981­, a HBV vaccine demonstration project providing HBV screening and vaccination was conducted in two highly endemic groups of Alaskans:

  • AN infants in tribal health facilities were offered 3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine starting at birth.
  • Simultaneously, a vaccine catch­-up program was conducted in schools, which also included AN adults.

Thirty-two years later, research shows that the universal hepatitis B vaccination program had eliminated hepatitis B infection, and liver cancer cases associated with the Hep B infection.

Dr Brian McMahon, Director of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) Hepatitis Program, said "The elements of this program that we introduced, which include screening and interventions to reduce perinatal transmission and universal vaccination, are recommended as the standard of care for all US populations, including indigenous populations.

“It was a global effort. It takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to get rid of hepatitis,” said Dr. McMahon.

Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) said, "Global deaths from hepatitis must be brought down from 1.34 million to lower than 469,000 people per year.

Since 2000, deaths due to viral hepatitis increased globally by 22%.

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Additionally, the WHA report indicates childhood hepatitis B vaccination coverage has reached 84%, while coverage from the initial birth dose vaccination is still low at 39%.

The WHA identified several hepatitis B "hot spots" with the Western Pacific region and Africa reporting most of the new cases. Up to 1.4 million people in the United States may have chronic hepatitis B infection.

Hepatitis B is a serious disease that affects the liver.  It is caused by the hepatitis B virus, and can be either acute or chronic.

Chronically-infected people can spread hepatitis B virus to others, even if they do not feel or look sick themselves. About 90% of infants who get hepatitis B become chronically infected and about 1 out of 4 of these children die.

Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vaccine Price List provides current Hep B vaccine prices and general information.