Study shows universal vaccination has wiped out hepatitis B and associated liver cancer in Alaska’s young people

Hepatitis B
A microscopic image of the Hepatitis B virus, taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Updated research presented at this year’s World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Viral Hepatitis in Anchorage, Alaska, USA (8-9 August) shows that the universal hepatitis B vaccination programme introduced for all newborn Alaskan children in the 1980s has wiped out hepatitis B infection and liver cancer cases associated with the infection. The study is by Dr Brian McMahon, Director of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) Hepatitis Program, Anchorage, AK, USA and colleagues at ANTHC including Dr Rosalyn Singleton.

Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection, which, if left untreated, becomes chronic, leading to extensive liver damage, liver cancer, and death. Since Hepatitis B is highly contagious, it spread rapidly in rural villages especially among young children.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Alaska Native (AN) people residing in Alaska experienced the highest rates of acute and chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC – liver cancer) in the USA. In 1981-82, a HBV vaccine demonstration project providing HBV screening and vaccination was conducted in 2 highly endemic regions of Alaska. In 1984, the program was extended to AN people statewide, and AN infants in tribal health facilities were offered 3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine starting at birth. At the same time, a vaccine catch-up program was conducted in schools statewide and also included reminders for AN adults that had tested negative for the virus.