Almost 95 percent of adults infected with the Hepatitis-B virus (HBV) will completely recover. Two in a thousand infected will die from serious liver complications. Anywhere from one to five percent of adults will become "healthy carriers" having no symptoms, but capable of spreading the virus. Twenty five percent of these carriers will develop life threatening liver disease later in life.
However, Hepatitis-B virus is almost always acquired through infected blood, through an infected mother or through sexual contact. Until recently, the vaccine was only targeted to persons at high risk, such as IV drug users, persons with HIV/AIDS, women and men with multiple sexual partners, and medical personnel.
Now not only children and teenagers have been targeted but infants as well. Infants born in New Brunswick, Northwest Territories and Vancouver are now receiving the vaccine. In the United States, infant vaccination is now officially recommended and in 36 states, children cannot attend school without the vaccine.
Eighty countries have now followed the advice of the World Health Organization and added Hepatitis-B vaccine to the expanding list of vaccines being routinely given to infants.
Edda West, co-founder of the Vaccine Risk Awareness Network (VRAN) argues that parents of newborns are not being told that the safety and efficacy of this vaccine is unproven; that the incidence of the disease is extremely low and declining in North America; and that the only possible justification for the use of the vaccine in newborns is if the mother is infected with the disease or is a carrier.
According to Health Canada statistics in 1996, there were only 61 reported cases of Hepatitis-B in Canada in children under 15. West found out that most if not all of these cases occurred in children who were born to infected mothers, or who lived in certain Asian immigrant communities where the infection was endemic. In the U.S. a similar situation exists, with 279 children getting Hepatitis-B in 1996.
The Canadian Hepatitis Working Group noted that the prevalence of Hepatitis-B infections in children in Canada is low, and confined to small well defined groups such as infants born to HBV women for whom prevention programs already exists. Dr. Giles Delage , from the Canadian Pediatric Society is concerned about adding three more needles to the infant vaccine schedule. (but vaccines combining hep-B with other infant vaccines are being developed).
Moreover, a point often overlooked is that the protection of HBV vaccine lasts for only ten years at the most. Thus the Hepatitis Group recommended vaccination of the 9 to 13 year group, since the incidence of infections starts to rise dramatically in the 15 to 19 year group and peaks in the 20 to 40 year group.
Meanwhile reports of serious side effects in adults given the vaccine continue to accumulate. In Ottawa, prominent chronic fatigue researcher, Dr. Byron Hyde and the Nightingale Research Foundation documented the cases of 57 people, mainly in Quebec, who had suffered disabling injuries of the central and peripheral nervous system following Hepatitis-B vaccination. The number of cases reported to Dr. Hyde is now over 100.
In 1990, Dr. Hyde notified Health and Welfare Canada of the 57 cases, but he became dismayed when he found out that none of the cases had been adequately investigated beyond a phone questionnaire administered to 17 of these patients. Health and Welfare, says Hyde, is not keeping sufficient or proper statistics on Hepatitis-B and is thus putting both adult and children's health in serious jeopardy.
In 1996, Immunology researcher Dr. John Classen reported a 60 percent increase in the incidence of diabetes following a massive Hepatitis-B vaccination programme for children under 16 in New Zealand.
In Houston Texas, Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, professor of cell biology at Baylor College of Medicine, reported the cases of two colleagues who developed "severe and apparently permanent adverse reactions as a result of being forced to take the Hepatitis-B vaccine." Her brother, Dr. Bohn Dunbar was one of these. He developed lupus like syndrome and multiple sclerosis like syndrome. The other colleague, a medical student went completely blind in one eye following two injections of the vaccine.
Dr. Dunbar obtained the FDA list of over 8,000 individuals who reported adverse reactions over the last four years for one vaccine brand. The other vaccine brand is reported to have a list of 15,000 adverse reactions. Adverse reactions include rashes, joint pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, neurological disorders, neuritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus like syndrome, and multiple sclerosis like syndrome.
In France 150 doctors worried about recent reports of MS and other neurological disorders in vaccinated patients appealed to the French Academy of Sciences to commission an independent study of the vaccine. In July 1998, 15,000 French citizens representing 17 associations filed a suit against the manufacturers of Hepatitis-B vaccine. In addition, France suspended its vaccination of school children (but not infants).
The current consensus of the medical profession is that the HBV vaccine is safe and that the benefits outweighs the risks. Unfortunately, safety data was based on short term studies and follow up of only 4 to 5 days post vaccine.
Since serious sequelae take weeks to months to develop, long term side effects have not been studied. Nonetheless, a new package insert states that the vaccine has been associated with MS, lupus, arthritis, and Guillain Barre Syndrome.
An editorial in the Journal of Midwifery poses some timely questions. "With the addition of the HBV vaccine to the list of recommended childhood vaccines, an infant will receive seven immunizations by the age of eight weeks (two HBV vaccines, one diphtheria, one pertussis, one polio, and one H-Influenza vaccine) Is there a point at which this infantile immune system is being asked to take on more that it can handle?... Is it possible that by attempting to contain one disease, other disease processes are evolving?... Are our infants being subjected to vaccination because of the failure of the system to identify and vaccinate the appropriate populations?"
The Vaccine Risk Awareness Network (Box 169, Winlaw BC, V0G 2J0, 250-355-2525), is a watchdog organization that gathers and distributes information and publishes a newsletter. Membership is $25. You can send for a free reading list with related net sites. Other sources for information are, The Association For Vaccine Damaged Children (204-895-9192), The National Vaccine Information Center (www.909shot.com) and the Immunization Awareness Society (www.netlink.co.nz/'ias/ias.htm).
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