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Hepatitis B Vaccination and Autoimmune Phenomena

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: Are you are aware of the recent research released about hepatitis B vaccination and autoimmune phenomena, and do you intend to inform your patients?

A: I am very much aware of the concerns of serious side effects and hepatitis B vaccines. As recently written by representatives for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is "no confirmed scientific evidence showing a causal association between hepatitis B vaccine and multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, optic neuritis, or other autoimmune disorders."

Some studies are trying to look at these very issues, but to date have not found a clear link. Unusual detrimental occurrences that seem to be temporally related to hepatitis B vaccine are felt to be more coincidental than "cause and effect." The knowledge that hepatitis B still does occur at a dramatic rate each year and how severe it can be suggests to me that the benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of hepatitis B vaccination.

Parents do continue to ask probing questions about these possible associations. I believe it is important to give patients and families the most accurate and complete information about the vaccine as you can, so they feel fully informed. The CDC website, CDC hepatitis hotline, or state and local health departments can provide the most up-to-date information. We, as health care professionals, cannot emphasize enough to our patients and families the importance for all children to receive vaccines. I remain convinced about the safety of all currently licensed vaccines and their significant overall impact in preventing disease.

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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.


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