Background. Hepatitis B vaccination has proven to be very safe and highly effective. This study assessed the proportion of successfully vaccinated individuals among cases with acute hepatitis B, the proportion of preventable cases if individuals were vaccinated as recommended, and the reasons for failures.
Methods. We analyzed data reported to the Italian Surveillance System for Acute Viral Hepatitis from 1993 to 2014.
Results. A total of 362 of 11 311 (3.2%) cases with acute hepatitis B were vaccinated. Of the 277 cases for whom immunization data were available, 50 (18%) received a complete vaccination course according to the correct schedule and before exposure to hepatitis B virus. Molecular characterization of 17 of these cases showed that 6 were infected with S-gene mutants. Among the 10 949 unvaccinated cases, 213 (1.9%) escaped mandatory vaccination and 2821 (25.8%) were not vaccinated despite being at increased risk of infection. Among the latter, the most common risk factors were cohabitation with hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) carriers, intravenous drug use, and homosexual/bisexual practices. Thirty-seven percent of the unvaccinated households with HBsAg carriers were aware of their risk. Lack of trust in the vaccination, negative attitude, and inaccurate beliefs followed by lack of or poor communication and low perceived severity of the disease were the most frequent reasons for vaccine hesitancy.
Conclusions. Development of acute disease in successfully vaccinated individuals is a rare event. Further efforts are needed to enhance the vaccine coverage rate in individuals at increased risk of infection.