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Although most children and adolescents have been vaccinated against hepatitis B virus, adults lag behind

Nearly 95 percent of children and adolescents were vaccinated against the hepatitis B virus (HBV) in 2004. However, public health planners should not be misled by the boost in HBV vaccination rates among young adults into thinking that strategies aimed at adults have also been successful.

Accelerating the elimination of HBV infection in the United States will require policy and practice changes to target unvaccinated high-risk adults of all ages, suggest the Medical University of South Carolina investigators. They used data from the National Health Interview Survey in years 2000, 2002, and 2004 to examine trends in HBV vaccination among high-risk adults aged 18 to 49 years and in age subgroups (18-29, 30-39, and 40-49 years).

Vaccination rates significantly increased across the three survey years (32.6, 35.3, and 41.4 percent in 2000, 2002, and 2004, respectively). Survey respondents aged 18 to 29 years were nearly twice as likely to be vaccinated in 2004 than in 2000, after adjusting for other factors. However, there was no significant increase in vaccination rates for the other adult groups. Driving the higher rates of vaccination among high-risk young adults was most likely their higher vaccination rates as children or adolescents.

Improving vaccination of older high-risk adults, who were too old to benefit from childhood immunization programs and requirements to be immunized before school entry, may require national immunization programs similar to those that have proven successful with children and adolescents, suggest the researchers. Their study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS13851).

See "The effect of vaccinated children on increased hepatitis B immunization among high-risk adults," by Deepika L. Koya, M.D., M.S.C.R., Elizabeth G. Hill, Ph.D., and Paul M. Darden, M.D., in the May 2008 American Journal of Public Health 98(5), pp. 832-838.

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