A shortage of the hepatitis B vaccine has forced Public Health England (PHE) to limit usage to only those who are at the ‘highest immediate risk’.
Shortages of vaccines all over the world have forced other countries to take similar measures, as manufacturing issues have caused delays in continued production. Measures are expected to continue until 2018.
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People travelling from the UK to high-risk countries may not be able to get the vaccine before leaving the country as babies born to hepatitis B-positive mothers, and other high-risk groups are prioritised to limit usage to those who need it most.
Sexual partners of infected individuals, men who have sex with men, healthcare workers, and people who inject drugs are among those deemed at the highest risk of being exposed.
A PHE spokesperson said: ‘The manufacturers are getting more stock in but there has been an issue for a while so that’s why we have put this prioritisation guidance into place. We know that the hepatitis B vaccine takes a long time and is quite difficult to manufacture.
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‘We will make sure those who really need the vaccine will get it, and those who are less at risk should get it at a later date. It’s important to note that we are a very low risk country for hepatitis B, and the most at risk group are babies.’
Individuals have been advised they can reduce their risk by avoiding having unprotected sex, not injecting drugs, or sharing needles when injecting, avoiding having tattoos, piercings or acupuncture when overseas, and avoiding accessing medical or dental care in high-prevalence countries.
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Vaccination will still be available for people who have already been exposed to hepatitis B and they should seek urgent medical attention as the infection can still be prevented if treated promptly after the incident.
The recently-announced addition of hepatitis B protection to the routine childhood immunisation programme at two, three and four months will go ahead. The combined vaccine is not affected by this shortage.