A federal health advisory panel has recommended that all U.S. adults younger than age 60 get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
Under the new policy, tens of millions of adults between the ages of 30 and 59 could get vaccines against the potentially chronic liver disease. Hepatitis B vaccinations became the standard for children in 1991, meaning most adults younger than 30 already have received them.
“We’re losing ground. We cannot eliminate hepatitis B in the U.S. without a new approach,” Dr. Mark Weng, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said during a Nov. 3 meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, The Associated Press reported.
CDC Director Rochelle Walenksy must sign off on the advisory panel’s recommendation before it can become a public policy, although it’s not clear when she’ll make the decision.
Currently, the CDC recommends that infants and those under the age of 19 get vaccinated against hepatitis B. They’ve also recommended that other adults who fall into several categories get vaccinated, including prisoners, health care workers, people who inject drugs, and international travelers.
“The current risk-based strategy … has taken public health as far as it can take us,” Dr. Kevin Ault, a committee member, said on Nov. 3.
According to CDC data, about 30 percent of adults are vaccinated against the disease and about one-third of people with diabetes and chronic liver conditions and two-thirds of health care workers who are eligible are vaccinated. The CDC estimated that about 1.89 million people in the United States are living with chronic hepatitis B.
During the panel discussion, officials said about 20,000 new infections occur each year across the United States, the AP reported.
The Mayo Clinic stated that the disease is caused by the hepatitis B virus, which can become chronic and last for more than six months.
“Having chronic hepatitis B increases your risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer, or cirrhosis—a condition that permanently scars … the liver,” the clinic stated. “Most adults with hepatitis B recover fully, even if their signs and symptoms are severe.
“The younger you are when you get hepatitis B—particularly newborns or children younger than 5—the higher your risk of the infection becoming chronic. Chronic infection may go undetected for decades until a person becomes seriously ill from liver disease.”
Symptoms include abdominal pain, dark urine, fever, loss of appetite, joint pain, nausea, weakness, and yellowing of the skin or the whites of eyes, known as jaundice.
The vaccine against hepatitis B includes a two- or three-dose series, depending on the maker of the vaccine, according to the CDC.