Hepatitis B birth dose vaccine now administered to newborns |02 December 2023
- Addresses immunity gap from birth till initial first dose at three months
By Patrick Joubert
The announcement was made by the director of Family Health, Vereine Louis-Marie, during a short ceremony held yesterday morning at the Antenatal Ward of the Seychelles Hospital, to officially launch the introduction and use of the vaccine.
Present were the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Seychelles, Dr Rex Mpazanje; the ambassador for Children, Dr Erna Athanasius; staff of the Antenatal Ward and representatives of the National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NITAG).
Hepatitis B is a serious infection that affects the liver and causes chronic disease, liver cirrhosis, cancer, and death. It is transmitted to children at birth. The Hepatitis B vaccine already forms part of the Ministry of Health’s routine vaccination schedule and is currently being administered to three-month old babies. It was first introduced in 1995 and is being administered to three, four and five-month old babies. However the ministry said there was still an immunity gap between birth and three months where babies are at risk. The Hepatitis B birth dose vaccine will be given to all newborns to address the immunity gap.
The administering of the Hepatitis B birth dose will be done straight after birth in the labour room and within 24 hours of birth, with the consent of parents. It is to be followed by at least two additional doses at 3 and 4 months. It is the fifteenth vaccines included in the Seychelles National Immunisation Schedule for children after the Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus vaccines, first introduced in 1956 for three, four, five and 18-month old babies.
It was nurse Nicole Mussard who had the honour of performing the symbolic gesture to commemorate the introduction of the vaccine by administering the first dose to the baby of Novana Agathine, born the previous night.
In her address, Mrs Louis-Marie said that Seychelles has not been spared from Hepatitis B infections in newborns. Two maternal cases of Hepatitis B have been reported every year since 2020, indicating a looming problem.
She added that with various risky behaviours within the population, there is an impending threat of an increased number of Hepatitis B infections in the future.
Mrs Louis-Marie stated that approximately 5,000 to 6,000 individuals are affected by drug addiction with a significant portion of them involved in intravenous drug use, thereby significantly increasing their vulnerability to contracting and transmitting the Hepatitis B virus.
She said that engaging in risky sexual behaviours, such as having multiple sexual partners and not using barrier protection consistently, also poses a substantial risk for the continued transmission of Hepatitis B within the population and therefore increases the likelihood of babies being born with Hepatitis B.
“Many people might wonder why another vaccine is necessary. Vaccines have been scientifically demonstrated to be the most powerful weapon in the battle against diseases, preventing illnesses, disability, and even death. Moreover, when administered during infancy, they play a crucial role in controlling and minimising healthcare expenses,” noted Mrs Louis-Marie.
She stated research has demonstrated that administering the vaccine within 24 hours of birth, followed by at least two additional doses, can result in an impressive 90% effectiveness in preventing infection among infants and therefore it was important for all parents to take advantage of this new initiative to keep their children healthy.
In his opening address, Dr Mpazanje said that according to the WHO, an estimated 257 million people worldwide are living with chronic HBV infection, and 887,000 people die every year from Hepatitis B-related complications.
He noted that around 70% of Hepatitis B infections worldwide occur in Africa and mother-to-child transmission is among the main modes of HBV transmission in high-prevalence settings, and accounts for up to 50% of chronic infections.
He added that the WHO recommends that all infants receive the first dose of Hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth, followed by two or three additional doses in the first year of life.
Dr Mpazanje noted that however the current coverage of the birth dose in the African region remains low; at only 11% in 2019. This was why the introduction of the birth dose in Seychelles was a truly commendable step towards increasing the number of countries administering birth dose vaccine and eliminating Hepatitis B as a public health problem.
“Seychelles has shown strong commitment and leadership in addressing Hepatitis B, alongside HIV and syphilis – the three infections transmitted from mother to child. Seychelles has also maintained a high coverage of Hepatitis B pentavalent vaccine, of around 99%. By adding the birth dose, Seychelles is now on track to achieve the triple elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis, and Hepatitis B – a global health sector strategy endorsed by all WHO member states,” Dr Mpazanje said.
Dr Mpazanje stated that while our country is making remarkable progress in preventing mother-to-child transmission of Hepatitis B, there is still a need to address the burden of chronic Hepatitis B among older population who did not have the benefit of being vaccinated at birth or while young.
Photos by Patrick Joubert