Hepatitis B vaccine in the national immunization schedule: A preventive step in India

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Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. HBV is transmitted through contact with infected blood or body fluids, unprotected sexual intercourse and the perinatal route but not through casual contact. About two billion people worldwide have been infected with the virus, an estimated 360 million live with chronic infection, and at least 600,000 people die annually from acute or chronic consequences of hepatitis B, such that hepatitis B is a major public health problem worldwide. HBV is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV. It has been estimated that, of the 25 million infants born every year in India, over one million run the lifetime risk of developing chronic HBV infection. Every year over 100,000 Indians die due to illnesses related to HBV infection. Following the launch of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) to intensify National Immunization Programs (NIPs) in developing countries worldwide. World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that hepatitis B vaccine should be given to all infants. Several cost-effectiveness analyses of inclusion of hepatitis B vaccine in India's NIP have been performed. These indicate that universal childhood hepatitis B immunization in India will be highly cost-effective. The Government of India is also supporting planned state programs for introducing new vaccines as part of routine immunization. The current immunization schedule for hepatitis B vaccine includes a dose given as early as possible after birth, preferably within 24 h for all institutional deliveries because the birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine is effective in preventing perinatal transmission of hepatitis B. Irrespective of the birth dose, 3 doses are to be given at 6, 10, 14 weeks at the same time as DPT and OPV.

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