Why Babies Need This Vaccine

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a new policy statement about the hepatitis B vaccine, recommending that babies receive their first dose of the vaccine within 24 hours of being born. Previously, the AAP policy statement on the hep B vaccine had included an option to delay the first dose until the baby’s first well visit; this new updated recommendation is based on the fact that infants are particularly vulnerable to infection right after birth, and giving a newborn the first dose earlier maximizes the vaccine’s ability to protect against infection. (Another dose is typically given at 1 to 2 months and a third is given at 6 to 18 months, and a fourth dose may be given, depending on the brand of vaccine your child’s pediatrician uses.)

According to the new AAP statement, all healthy newborns who weight at least 4 pounds, 6 ounces, should receive this vaccine in their first 24 hours, before they leave the hospital. For babies who weigh less than this, the AAP recommends giving them the vaccine at one month of age or when they are discharged from the hospital, whichever comes first. (For babies born to hepatitis B positive mothers, the AAP recommends giving them the vaccine regardless of weight.) The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also recommends vaccinating newborns against hepatitis B right after birth.

What is Hepatitis B and how can it harm babies?

Hepatitis B is a serious and potentially life-threatening liver infection that is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). As many as 1,000 new cases of hepatitis B are identified in infants each year in the U.S. Some important facts about hepatitis B that parents need to know:

  • Hepatitis B is highly contagious; it is transmitted by coming in contact with body fluids, sores or blood of someone who is infected. Mothers who are infected with the hepatitis B virus can transmit this infection to their babies at birth. Infected adults can also transmit the virus to babies while caring for them.
  • In many cases, adults who are infected with hepatitis B do not feel ill or look sick and are not even aware that they are carrying the virus.
  • In healthy adults, the immune system can usually fight the hepatitis B infection and clear it up in a few months. But for newborns and babies, it’s a very different story: When they are infected, the virus is more likely to stay in the body all their lives (called chronic hepatitis B infection), and over time, can cause liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer or even death.
  • Vaccination can make a big difference. The first dose of the hep B vaccine is extremely effective in preventing infection from mother to baby when it’s given within a newborn’s first 24 hours, according to the AAP. And after receiving the complete number of doses, as many as 98 percent of healthy infants become fully immune to the virus.
  • Sadly, the current opioid epidemic that is currently plaguing our nation has led to an increase in new hepatitis B infections in some states. Given how stealthy the hepatitis B virus can be in adults, it’s extremely important to vaccinate all newborns when rates of this dangerous virus go up in communities.


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