The hepatitis B vaccine is in the news this week as a French lawsuit raises concerns regarding the association between the vaccine and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). In 1998 the vaccine was curtailed from routine use in France amid rising concerns of significant risk of the vaccine precipitating multiple sclerosis. The best available research on the subject was published in 2004 in the journal Neurology. That study was a prospective, well done project that showed a 310% increase in MS among people who received the hepatitis B vaccination!
As with all vaccinations, it is important to weight the risks against the benefits. The risks of the the Hepatitis B vaccine are significant. A study reported in the journal Autoimmunity in 2005 reported the following increases in risk of autoimmune disease following hepatitis B vaccination:
- 520% increase in Multiple Sclerosis
- 1,400% increase in optic neuritis
- 260% increases in vasculitis
- 201% increase in arthritis
- 910% increase in lupus
- 1,800% increase in Rheumatoid Arthritis
The authors of the study conclude "...chances of exposure to hepatitis B virus in adults is largely life-style dependent. Adults should make an informed consent decision, weighing the risks and benefits of HBV, as to whether or not to be immunized."
In the United States the hepatitis B vaccination remains part of the infant vaccination routine. Hepatitis B is transmitted via blood, with nearly all cases being transmitted through sexual activity or IV drug use. The vaccination probably has benefits that outweigh the risks in sex workers and IV drug users. As far as the routine vaccination of infants, I believe this is inappropriate, and that we could learn from the French!