Universal Mass Vaccination Against Hepatitis A

  • F. E. André

Abstract

When first introduced in 1992 the hepatitis A vaccine was recommended for individuals at high risk of exposure. This policy was not expected to have a significant impact on disease incidence at population level in view of the epidemiology of the hepatitis A virus (HAV).More recently two countries, Israel and Bahrain, and regions or subpopulations in others (Australia, China, Byelorussia, Italy, Spain, US) have embarked upon more ambitious vaccination programmes that aim to immunize whole birth cohorts. After a brief survey of the virology and epidemiology of HAV, the disease burden it inflicts and a short history of the development of HAV vaccines — both live (in China) and killed vaccines are available — the vaccination programmes introduced in the countries mentioned above are described. The results have been spectacular: disease incidence, not only in the vaccinated cohorts but also in the whole population, have plummeted within a few years of the start of mass vaccination. There is now convincing evidence that the vaccine confers herd immunity if the main spreaders of the virus are targeted for immunization. This finding should encourage other countries to start mass vaccination programmes against HAV, particularly as pharmacoeconomic studies are beginning to show that such a strategy could be a cost-effective way of controlling the disease. It is now even conceivable to eradicate HAV. In fact, this should be easier to achieve than polio eradication as HAV vaccines confer more durable immunity than polio vaccines. However, the global disease burden of HAV is generally thought not to be high enough to justify such an undertaking in the foreseeable future.

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. E. André
    • 1
  1. 1.RixensartBelgium

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