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Question: Immunization efforts for Hepatitis A

Answer: Vaccination against hepatitis A should be part of a comprehensive plan for the prevention and control of viral hepatitis. Planning for large-scale immunization programmes should involve careful economic evaluations and consider alternative or additional prevention methods, such as improved sanitation, and health education for improved hygiene practices.

Whether or not to include the vaccine in routine childhood immunizations depends on the local context. The proportion of susceptible people in the population and the level of exposure to the virus should be considered. Generally speaking, countries with intermediate endemicity will benefit the most from universal immunization of children. Countries with low endemicity may consider vaccinating high-risk adults. In countries with high endemicity, the use of vaccine is limited as most adults are naturally immune.

Countries with immunization schedules that include hepatitis A
As of May 2019, 34 countries used or were planning to introduce hepatitis A vaccine in routine immunization of children in specific risk groups.

While the 2 dose regimen of inactivated hepatitis A vaccine is used in many countries, other countries may consider inclusion of a single-dose inactivated hepatitis A vaccine in their immunization schedules. Some countries also recommend the vaccine for people at increased risk of hepatitis A, including:

users of recreational drugs;
travellers to countries where the virus is endemic;
men who have sex with men; and
people with chronic liver disease (because of their increased risk of serious complications if they acquire hepatitis A infection).
Regarding immunization for outbreak response, recommendations for hepatitis A vaccination should also be site-specific. The feasibility of rapidly implementing a widespread immunization campaign needs to be included.

Vaccination to control community-wide outbreaks is most successful in small communities, when the campaign is started early and when high coverage of multiple age groups is achieved. Vaccination efforts should be supplemented by health education to improve sanitation, hygiene practices and food safety.

(Source: World Health Organization (WHO), 20 Feb 2020)

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