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Independents' Day

GPs may have to vaccinate all children against hep B

Government vaccine advisers are poised to recommend universal hepatitis B immunisation in children in a bid to stem spread of the disease.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has set up a hepatitis B subgroup to consider immunisation options amid fears that hepatitis B could become a significant problem because of the rising number of refugees entering the UK.

JCVI chair Professor Michael Langman confirmed the committee was undertaking a 'mature consideration of options'.

He told Pulse: 'These would include no change from the present policy; enhancing the present policy; or something more all-embracing.'

Professor Langman said the subgroup was examining evidence on giving the vaccine early in childhood or later, if universal immunisation was adopted. He added that experience from abroad backed early immunisation.

Dr George Kassianos, a member of the subgroup and RCGP spokesman on immunisation, told Pulse his view was hepatitis B vaccine should be introduced universally for infants.

A catch-up programme for all adolescents should follow and the targeting of high-risk groups should 'never stop'.

Dr Kassianos, a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said because of low endemicity ­ less than 2 per cent of the population are carriers ­ the UK has deferred a decision on hepatitis B immunisation since 1997. But greater migration of refugees has now prompted a review.

Dr Kassianos said: 'The Government is very keen to ensure the UK does not get a problem with hepatitis B.'

Professor Roger Williams, professor of hepatology at University College London, said hepatitis B vaccination should begin immediately.

He said: 'There should be universal vaccination because the number of cases has increased over the last two years, because of the immigration quota.'

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