October 8, 2021, ST. JOHN’S, ANTIGUA—Starting Monday October 11, healthy newborns at Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre (SLBMC) will receive a birth-dose of hepatitis B vaccine within the first 24 hours of life to improve their protection against the enduring and potentially fatal disease.
In 2009, World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized prevention of mother-to-child Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) transmission, by recommending that all countries, even those with low HBV prevalence, introduce universal hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination.
“Hepatitis B can lead to devastating lifelong illnesses or even death, so this vaccine is a critical safety net to protect babies from acquiring a potentially serious infection at the time of birth,” said Shivon Belle-Jarvis, MD, SLBMC Pediatric Department Chair. “Many adults with an infection do not feel or look sick and are not even aware that they carry the virus. It is contagious and adults can transmit it while caring for an infant after birth.”
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic disease. Chronic infection over the course of a lifetime can lead to liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death.
“This is the first vaccine a baby receives,” said Ann-Marie Browne-Isaac, RN, SLBMC Maternity & Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Department Manager. “It is important that no newborn leaves the hospital without it. Infants are especially vulnerable to infection at the time of birth, and need the maximal protection provided by administering the first vaccine dose shortly after birth.”
All medically stable newborns with a minimum birth weight of 2000 grams (about 4 lbs., 6 oz.) and born to mothers who are hepatitis B negative, will receive the vaccine within 24 hours of birth. For infants born to hepatitis B positive mothers, the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immunoglobulin will be administered at birth, which is not new, regardless of birth weight or other co-morbidities. The vaccine is well tolerated in infants.
Salma Crump, SLBMC Head of Marketing & Communications said, “This policy change is being guided by the Ministry of Health Wellness & the Environment. We’re grateful for the support of the Pan American Health Association (PAHO) who assisted with funding for our education program, which is ongoing—as well the support of the Kiwanis Club of St. John’s Antigua, who immediately said yes, when we asked for their assistance with purchasing a vaccination refrigerator.”