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Hepatitis Vaccination: Myths, Facts, and Strategies To Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy

Infection with hepatitis C virus is a global public health concern. A recent study found that Canada is on track to achieve hepatitis C elimination goals set by the World Health Organization if treatment levels are maintained, however, many provinces began to see a decrease in vaccinations prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hepatitis viruses easily spread to others, causing liver infections and damage. Vaccines can protect against some hepatitis viruses, but patients may worry about myths concerning side effects and risks. 

Myth: Hepatitis Vaccines Give You Hepatitis

Fact: Hepatitis vaccines do not contain live viruses and cannot cause hepatitis.

Hepatitis vaccines are made with inactivated viruses or surface proteins. These components teach the immune system to recognize hepatitis and trigger an immune response, protecting against future infections. 

There are several approved vaccine products available. The hepatitis A vaccines use inactivated or dead viruses incapable of infecting cells. 

The hepatitis B vaccines contain viral proteins, known as recombinant vaccines. Scientists isolate a section of the gene in the hepatitis B virus that makes the surface proteins and insert these genes into a yeast cell. These yeast cells then make these surface proteins, which are harvested and used in vaccines but are also incapable of infecting cells. 

Myth: Hepatitis B Vaccines Cause Multiple Sclerosis 

Fact: Hepatitis B vaccines do not cause multiple sclerosis (MS) or trigger MS flare-ups. 

The fear that hepatitis B vaccines cause MS dates back to a 1998 study that reported a link between the vaccine and a nerve disease known as MS. Several studies have been completed since then and found no association between hepatitis B vaccines and the development of MS in children or adults. 

Millions of people have received hepatitis vaccines, yet don’t have MS. Additionally, Health Canada reviews, approves, and monitors all vaccines for use in the public. Vaccine manufacturers must prove that vaccines work, are safe to use, and are manufactured under strict quality control. 

Myth: Hepatitis Isn’t Common, So Vaccines Are Unnecessary

Fact: Hepatitis infections can and do happen in unexpected ways.

Hepatitis A infections, for example, spread through contact with infected stool. You can get hepatitis A when you eat or drink food and water contaminated with infected stool. Some Canadians are more likely to get hepatitis A, including:

  • People with chronic liver disease
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Travellers to countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Military personnel and humanitarian relief workers

Hepatitis B, on the other hand, is spread through contact with infected bodily fluids. You can contract hepatitis B from:

  • Infected semen, blood, or other body fluids during unprotected sex
  • Sharing dirty needles
  • Sharing contaminated personal items
  • Dirty tattoo, piercing, or acupuncture needles

Healthcare workers or other people who handle blood can also become infected with the virus. Mothers can also spread hepatitis B to babies during birth. 

How To Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy in Patients

Vaccine hesitancy is common, especially among parents. Recent data shows that only 3 percent of parents refuse vaccines outright, but 19 percent describe themselves as hesitant. 

While research on vaccine hesitancy is limited, a review study shows that a few key strategies work best to overcome hesitation. Healthcare workers should:

  • Present vaccines as the default health approach
  • Be honest about side effects
  • Reassure patients about the rigours of the vaccine safety system
  • Tell your patients what you would do for your children
  • Build trust with parents

Hepatitis vaccines are essential tools that promote health and prevent infectious diseases. MDBriefCase offers accredited courses to help you stay up-to-date on current research and strategies. Join for free today.