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Acta Paediatr. 2002;91(9):995-1001.

Hepatitis B immunization in low birthweight infants: do they need an additional dose?

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.



To determine the influence of gestation and weight on the development of protective anti-HB levels and geometric mean titres after three doses of HBV vaccine and to ascertain the need for a fourth dose in low birthweight infants.


Hepatitis B vaccine (Enivac HB, Panacea Biotec Ltd., India) was given to 82 preterm (PT) and 60 term intrauterine growth-retarded (T-IUGR) infants at birth and at 6, 10 and 14wk of life.


Protective anti-HB levels (>10 mIU/ml) were reached in 86.6% (71/82) of PT infants and 96.7% (58/60) of T-IUGR infants after three doses of HBV vaccine (p = 0.044). The odds of having a protective response after the third dose of HBV vaccine was 1.25 (95% CI 1.02-1.53) with every one-week increase in gestation (p = 0.032). Birthweight was not associated with the development of a protective immune response. After the third dose, only 66.7% (8/12) of the PT infants whose mothers had anti-HB antibodies, developed protective anti-HB levels compared with 90% (63/70) of those with no maternal antibodies (p = 0.028). In PT infants after the fourth dose, there was a significant increase in the proportion of infants with protective antibody levels (8.6%, 95% CI 0.6-16.6%) among those with no maternal antibodies and 12.2% overall (95% CI 6.0-21.3) (p = 0.031 to 0.002) over that reached with the third dose. Administration of the fourth dose to T-IUGR infants did not confer such a benefit.


In HBV-endemic areas, PT infants, irrespective of their birthweights, may benefit from an additional dose of hepatitis B vaccine in a schedule starting at birth. This approach will prevent vertical transmission and bring their immune response up to par with term infants. Term intrauterine growth-retarded infants should be vaccinated as per the schedule recommended for normal term infants. However, studies in other settings with different vaccine formulations and a longer follow-up period will be required before this strategy can be practised more widely.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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