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CDC Urges Hospitals Not to Delay Hep-B Shots

February 26, 2001|From Associated Press

ATLANTA — Hospitals, apparently still concerned about a 1999 scare over mercury levels in hepatitis B vaccines, are not immunizing enough newborns against the disease, the government said recently.

Different studies in four states--Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin--show hospitals are unnecessarily delaying hepatitis shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

CDC analysts said the studies likely indicated a nationwide trend.

Dr. Anthony Fiore, a CDC epidemiologist, said hospitals may be lagging because hepatitis symptoms are rare in newborns.

"It's not like something they've treated before and know to fear," he said.

Two years ago, health officials urged hospitals to wait about two months after birth to immunize babies born to women without the disease, citing a mercury-laden preservative in the vaccine that can cause brain damage in rare high doses.

That delay was lifted two months later, when vaccines free of the preservative thimerosal became available. Health officials did not recommend the delay for babies born to hepatitis-positive mothers.

Thimerosal is an organic form of mercury also commonly found in eyedrops and contact-lens solutions. Levels in the vaccine were tiny, but the chemical was removed because health officials worried that small infants would be too heavily exposed.

Before the mercury scare, 83% of Wisconsin babies were born in hospitals that routinely vaccinated newborns against hepatitis B. The number dropped to 43% by March 2000, months after preservative-free vaccine was made available.

In Oklahoma, the number of vaccine doses given to newborns and young infants dropped by half from just before the mercury concerns surfaced to May 2000. In Oregon, the number dropped by more than one-quarter.

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