Not All Canadian Infants Get Hepatitis B Vaccine, Despite WHO Recommendation

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The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends all newborns to be vaccinated against hepatitis B, and it should be done as soon as they’re born. But right now, Canada’s approach is different, and a hepatitis expert is asking what’s with the different schedule and why put so many children at risk?

The director of the Toronto Centre for Liver Disease at Toronto General Hospital, Dr. Harry Janssen is the one asking these questions.

Each province has its own schedule of vaccination against hepatitis B. The first dose at birth is given only in New Brunswick, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories, while in Yukon, Quebec, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island, children get the vaccine at two months.

Ontario and Nova Scotia will vaccinate children at 12 years old. Manitoba schedules vaccination at the age of 9, Alberta at 10 and Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador at 11.

Let’s ‘Remove This Lottery’ and Make Vaccination a Routine

Dr. Janssen explains that vaccination of infants is common in developed countries and also in many developing countries. According to WHO, infants should receive the first dose of vaccine against hepatitis B in the first 24 hours after being born. He explains that:

“There is a misconception that we only need to offer older children vaccination in the years before they become sexually active, since sexual activity is one of the routes of transmission. However, all babies and young children face other risks of blood to blood transmission from the moment they are born. This can happen through household contacts, at school playing together with other children and in many other places.”

If a person is infected with the virus, treatment clears it out in six months in 95% of cases. But for young children or infants, if they contract the illness, over 90% of the cases develop chronic infection, leading to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death if not treated.

Janssen says that making a single vaccination policy and moving the schedule to infant vaccination could bring Canada’s new infections almost to zero:

“Since all children across Canada will eventually be vaccinated regardless of where they live, why don’t we just remove this lottery and routinely vaccinate them all from birth? This is the best way to ensure that they are all vaccinated and none slip through the system.”

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere