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Response to Ms. Sylvia Chase | ABC 20/20
[August 14, 1998]

Ms. Sylvia Chase Correspondent, ABC 20/20
147 Columbus Avenue-10th Floor
New York, NY 10023

Dear Ms. Chase:

The interview in which I participated on July 17, 1998 as part of your upcoming segment on the hepatitis B vaccine has left me with several concerns.

In the interest of ensuring that your viewers receive complete and accurate information about this vaccine, there are several points I would like to reiterate to you. I feel it is exceedingly important to consider these factors when making a final judgement about the risks and benefits of the hepatitis B vaccine and I am concerned that there was little opportunity to clearly make these points during our interview.

  • Hepatitis B is an extremely serious disease. Hepatitis B virus infection is second only to tobacco among known human carcinogens. The hepatitis B vaccine represents our only licensed and available anti-cancer vaccine.
  • There is no cure for hepatitis B virus infection and those who suffer from chronic hepatitis B may get cirrhosis or liver cancer. Only a liver transplant can save their lives.
  • An estimated 1.25 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis B, and 4,000-5,000 people die from the disease each year.
  • Nearly 1/3 of those who contract hepatitis B do not have any of the known risk factors and do not know how they contracted the disease.
  • The hepatitis B vaccine is extremely safe. More than 500 million people have received the vaccine worldwide, and large-scale studies have shown no association between the vaccine and the occurrence of any serious adverse events.
  • Many hepatitis B carriers do now know they have the disease, and therefore are at risk for transmitting them to others.
  • Those who become infected with hepatitis B virus as infants have a 90% risk of developing a chronic infection. The increased risk of developing a chronic infection, with its dire late consequence, persists through the first four or five years of life. Up to 25% of those chronically infected will die of chronic liver disease, including cancer.
  • In the United States, there are approximately 150,000-200,000 new infections with hepatitis B virus each year.
  • One in twenty people in the United States with get hepatitis B at some time during their lives.

The ACIP decision to recommend vaccinating infants against this disease at birth was not made lightly. Every pertinent piece of evidence and research was reviewed before the committee made its recommendation. Our decision was based on the fact that, given the serious nature of the disease, the benefits accruing from early vaccination and the very low risk of side effects from the vaccination, it was clearly in the best interest of public health in this country.

I know you are aware of the impact your program has on your viewers. I hope the information I've re-stated for you is helpful in producing a complete and balanced report on the serious issue of vaccinating infants against a potentially life threatening disease.

Samuel L. Katz, M.D.
Professor of Pediatrics
Duke University Medical Center

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