Chronic Hepatitis B can develop into potentially fatal conditions such as liver cancer and cirrhosis. It affects more than 325,000 patients in the UK alone, and once contracted cannot be cured. However, with a simple and effective vaccine, it can be prevented.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) called for countries to introduce universal childhood immunisation more than 15 years ago. Since then 116 countries have complied; the UK is not among them.
The ABPI, in conjunction with the British Liver Trust and the Hepatitis B Foundation, is petitioning Govt and demanding that urgent action is taken.
“Lives are being put at risk. A programme needs to be put into place to ensure that all British children are inoculated against Hepatitis B,” said Dr Richard Tiner, Medical Director, ABPI. “It is a matter of public health. Much of the rest of Europe operates mass childhood vaccination programmes; it is time that the UK followed suit.”
Imogen Shillito, Director of Information and Education at the British Liver Trust said: "In the UK the Government only vaccinates those deemed to be at high risk – but evidence shows that this policy is failing. A recent investigation into NHS use of the vaccine found only half of GP practices are following clinical guidelines on protecting patients. This is leaving millions of patients at risk of a preventable disease. The Government itself has revealed that prisoners, who are particularly at-risk, are left exposed to infection."
The calls follow the publication last month of Target Hepatitis, a joint report which examines all variants of the disease, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis D, produced in association with the British Liver Trust, Hepatitis C Trust and Hepatitis B Foundation UK.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
The hepatitis B vaccine was licensed in 1986 and was the first licensed vaccine to prevent a form of cancer.
Evidence on current use of the vaccine in the NHS was gathered through a British Liver Trust-commissioned survey from Fieldwork International, a healthcare specialist research agency, of 200 practice nurses from separate GP surgeries throughout the UK . Questions and raw data are available on request.
The Government provided information on the percentage of prisoners vaccinated in a Parliamentary answer dated 21 July 2008 . The range of vaccine coverage was between 27 and 36 per cent in the sample of prisoners reported in the Health Protection Agency surveillance programme.
The Government's recommendations on vaccination are set out in The Green Book
The success of the Hepatitis B Vaccine in preventing infection was highlighted in the NHS National Institute for Health research document "60 years of research in the NHS benefiting patients" published for the 60th anniversary of the NHS in July 2008.
"Routine vaccination of all infants against HBV infection should become an integral part of national immunisation schedules worldwide" - WHO position on hepatitis B vaccines, 2004
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have calculated that the worldwide introduction of universal infant vaccination would prevent 84 per cent of HBV-related deaths, assuming 90 per cent coverage
About the ABPI:
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has 150 members including the large majority of the research-based pharmaceutical companies operating in the UK, both large and small. Our member companies research, develop, manufacture and supply more than 80 per cent of the medicines prescribed through the National Health Service (NHS). For further information visit: www.abpi.org.uk
Media contact: ABPI Press office, 020 7747 1410.