UK supply of hepatitis B vaccine 'severely affected by global shortages'

Global shortages of the hepatitis B vaccine have "severely impacted UK supply", health officials have said.

Public Health England (PHE) has set out how health professionals can prioritise those most at risk.

Some people seeking vaccination - such as travellers - may face delays as a result.

PHE has set out a priority list of those who need the vaccine the most.

Babies born to mothers infected with hepatitis B are at the top of the list.

Among those placed in the second priority group are people who have had a needle-stick injury from a known positive person and those who have sexual exposure.

Those considered at lowest risk are people seeking booster jabs, having already completed a primary course of immunisation.

And travellers to "medium and high endemicity countries" are considered to be the second lowest priority for the vaccine.

PHE said that while supplies are limited, the vaccine will be prioritised for those at highest immediate risk based on their doctor's assessment.

For other people, a doctor may advise that the hepatitis B vaccine can be deferred until later.

Its new document for health officials states: "Temporary recommendations on hepatitis B immunisation have been developed in light of recent global shortages of hepatitis B vaccine, including combination hepatitis A/B vaccine, which have severely impacted UK supply."

However, the supply issues do not affect the "six in one" vaccine - which protects against hepatitis B as well as other childhood diseases - which is given as part of the routine childhood immunisation programme.

Some travellers are advised to get the immunisation before travelling abroad dependent on the length of their stay and the activities they undertake while abroad.

Areas where there is a higher risk of exposure to hepatitis B include Africa, India, China, South and Central America and South East Asia.

Risk for travellers is low although certain behaviours or activities put people at higher risk, including long-stay travel and unprotected sex.

The PHE guide for health professionals adds: "A risk assessment should be done on a case-by-case basis to determine whether vaccination against hepatitis B is indicated but it is unlikely to be available for travel purposes alone."

Hepatitis B is an acute infection of the liver. It is usually spread through contaminated blood via sexual intercourse, needle sharing, blood transfusions and injections. 

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