Hepatitis outbreak renews calls for access to vaccines

The healthcare industry must ensure global, equitable access to vaccines, as a new outbreak of Hepatitis in children across USA and Europe raises concerns

There has been a sudden rise in the number of children being infected with Hepatitis - an inflammation of the liver. Across the UK, 74 Hepatitis cases have been documented in children, with nine cases in Alabama, USA, and others reported in Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Babies are usually offered a Hepatitis vaccine, but due to the  pandemic, vaccine schedules have been disrupted and parents have been forced to wait. Although this was done to prevent crowding in healthcare facilities and stop further transmission of COVID-19, healthcare experts warned that this could cause a resurgence in other illnesses.

Hepatitis, the symptoms and the vaccine

There are five Hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated water and food, whereas the rest are usually bloodborne. The virus is transmitted through the reuse of infected medical equipment, such as needles, or the transfusion of blood.

As the liver filters blood coming in from the digestive system, this is where Hepatitis hits. 

Symptoms of hepatitis include fever, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, dark-coloured urine and jaundice.

According to the World Health Organisation, up to 58mn people live with chronic Hepatitis C and approximately 290,000 people died from the virus in 2019. 

Regulations vary across the world, but babies born to mothers who have Hepatitis B should receive their first dose of the vaccine within the first day of their birth. All other babies should have the vaccine in their infancy.

From COVID-19 to Hepatitis, the healthcare industry must ensure global, equitable access to vaccines

Many in the healthcare industry are concerned that millions of children are at risk of missing out on life-saving vaccines due to disruption of such services and preference shown to minimising the risk of spreading COVID-19. 

“We cannot allow a legacy of Covid-19 to be the resurgence of measles, polio and other killers,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “We all need to work together to help countries both defeat Covid-19, by ensuring global, equitable access to vaccines, and get routine immunisation programmes back on track.”

“The stakes have never been higher,” agreed Robin Nandy, UNICEF Principal Adviser and Chief of Immunisation. “As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, our life-saving work to provide children with vaccines is critical. With disruptions in immunisation services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fates of millions of young lives hang in the balance.”

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