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UK should introduce universal HBV vaccinations

Scientists are calling for children in the UK and seven other European countries to be universally vaccinated against hepatitis B.

Each year, infections with hepatitis B cause up to 22,000 deaths in Europe alone.

Writing in the journal, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Jane Zuckerman and colleagues say: "Over 12 years ago, WHO recommended that universal childhood hepatitis B vaccinations be implemented globally.

"Despite this, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK have adopted an 'at risk' strategy…meaning only those people at the highest risk of contracting the disease are vaccinated."

The authors add that increased travel and integration of immigrant communities are increasing the number of 'at risk' individuals throughout Europe.

Underreporting of hepatitis B can also mean the full extent of the problem is not realised.

The annual incidence of hepatitis B in the UK is reported to be 600 cases, however, scientists say true figures are closer to 6,000.

A universal vaccination programme could reduce the global burden of the disease and help protect children with no need for additional booster vaccines, say the scientists.

They conclude: "Global efforts to control and prevent hepatitis B are of crucial importance and it is the responsibility of each country worldwide to play its part."

The Lancet Infectious Diseases