In 1994, the government's Immunization Advisory Committee recommended routine vaccination against hepatitis B virus. It was a widely welcomed strategy to fight a serious and sometimes deadly disease. The CDC currently recommends vaccination for "all infants, beginning at birth," people under age 19, and at-risk adults. But after nearly 15 years, there's debate over who should receive this vaccine and when.
How is Hep B "caught" or transmitted? Through direct contact with infectious blood, semen and/or body fluids through sex, sharing needles, or infected mother to newborn. In my interview several months ago with the former head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Bernadine Healy (who is pro-vaccine), she expressed concern about infants receiving Hep B shots. She and some other medical experts reason that it's unnecessary to expose infants to this vaccine and its potential side effects at such an early age, unless they are at special risk for contracting the disease; most infants have no direct contact with body fluids of someone infected with hepatitis B, so what's the rush in exposing them to the series of vaccinations?
A special Vaccine Court ruled that hepatitis B vaccines caused an MS type illness in an adult woman, a woman who ultimately died.
According to the Vaccine Court: "There is a logical sequence of cause and effect in petitioner's having received the vaccination and then experiencing optic neuritis, the first symptom of her Devic's Disease, a variant of MS. As discussed, the onset after vaccination is appropriate to prove causation, whether the onset is 18 days or two months after vaccination … Not only did decedent have a vaccine injury, but also her death was vaccine-related."
This decision, like others in Vaccine Court, appears to contradict the government's official position. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine (Dr. Healy is a member, but does not agree with all of the group's views) stated: "The epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the hepatitis B vaccine in adults and multiple sclerosis. Because of the lack of epidemiological data on conditions other than MS in adults, the committee recommends further attention in the form of research and communication. However, the committee does not recommend that national and federal vaccine advisory bodies review the hepatitis B vaccine on the basis of concerns about demyelinating disorders."
It's believed most patients tolerate Hep B shots with no serious ill effects. However, an undetermined number of people suffer serious adverse events after Hep B or other vaccines. The mystery of why most people tolerate vaccines well, but others develop serious illnesses or even die, has not been fully investigated and remains an open question. At least 123 people who have filed cases in Vaccine Court have been paid compensation by the government for injuries or death related to their Hep B vaccine. This is the court's statistics page.
And here is the CDC's official information on hepatitis B and the vaccine.