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UK set to say no to hep B vaccine

The UK looks unlikely to follow WHO advice and introduce universal hepatitis B vaccination after Health Protection Agency research found the move would not be cost-effective.

A member of the Government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation told Pulse universal hepatitis B immunisation was 'not a priority' for the committee because of the low disease burden in the UK.

The HPA study, published in the latest issue of Viral Hepatitis, found universal vaccination in infants or in adolescents would not be cost-effective unless a lower price was negotiated.

Study leader Dr John Edmunds, head of the HPA's modelling and economics unit, said: 'It is concluded that universal hepatitis B vaccination will have a limited impact on the burden of disease associated with chronic hepatitis B.

'Since the incidence in south Asians and other ethnic groups is higher than in the overall UK population, it may be more cost-effective to target them.'

Professor Brent Taylor, community paediatrician at the Royal Free Hospital in London and JCVI member, said: 'At this stage it is not considered a priority in this country.

'The study undertaken by the HPA didn't suggest there were a large number of children at risk from the disease.'

But Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesman and co-author of a report for the JCVI hepatitis B sub-group last year, said the UK must introduce universal hepatitis B vaccination after signing an agreement to do so with the WHO in 1991.

He said: 'You can't say that because the vaccine is expensive we can't afford to immunise all infants. That is not a valid excuse.'

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