Side Effects of the Hepatitis B Vaccine
The hepatitis B vaccine can cause some soreness and swelling at the site of injection in some children, but the symptoms are more annoying than dangerous. The local reactions usually go away after a day or two.
There are two potentially serious reactions from the hepatitis B vaccine. The first is a life-threatening allergic reaction to the vaccine, and the second is the association between some autoimmune diseases with the vaccine.
One of out every 600,000 times the hepatitis B vaccine is given, someone may experience a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. This includes swelling of the mouth and throat, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and shock. This is an extremely dangerous reaction that requires emergency medical intervention. Such reaction typically happens shortly after the injection, usually within fifteen minutes.
Fortunately, the allergic reaction can be reversed with prompt treatment, and death can be prevented. Nevertheless, this is a serious reaction to keep in mind. It is a good idea to stay around the medical facility for twenty minutes after receiving the hepatitis B vaccine.
The Story of Julie
The second type of serious reaction linked to the hepatitis B vaccine is more controversial. So far, the verdict is mixed among vaccine experts. Some studies have demonstrated a temporal relationship between the vaccine and various autoimmune disorders, including Guillain Barré Syndrome.
Julie is a registered nurse who received her first hepatitis B vaccine when she was thirty-seven years old. Three days after she was vaccinated, she developed weakness in her legs and she couldn't walk the next day. She was hospitalized and had a spinal tap. The doctors diagnosed her with Guillain Barré Syndrome, which is a condition that is caused by one's own immune system attacking the nerves in the body. Several vaccines have been linked with this condition, including the hepatitis B vaccine, the flu vaccine, and a type of meningitis vaccine (the meningococcal conjugate vaccine).
The weakness gradually spread to Julie's arms and face, but fortunately she never stopped breathing. She did have difficulty eating and swallowing secondary to the weakness. Her weakness gradually improved, and she left the hospital after two weeks.
It has been two months since Julie got her hepatitis B vaccine, and she is still using crutches to walk. Her life has been drastically altered by what happened, and she worries about her future and whether she will eventually make a full recovery.
The Autoimmune Association
Besides Guillain Barré Syndrome, other autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis and optic neuritis, have been linked to the hepatitis B vaccine. However, it is extremely difficult to either prove or disprove whether there is a causal relationship. The difficulty lies in the fact that these conditions are rare.
Some vaccine experts believe that the hepatitis B vaccine could cause Guillain Barré Syndrome, but other research has refuted this connection. At this time, the best approach is to be aware of the possibility of this serious vaccine reaction and consider the risk of being exposed to hepatitis B at the same time. For some individuals, the risk of contracting the hepatitis B infection far outweighs the risk of developing Guillain Barré Syndrome. You are more likely to catch hepatitis B if you work with patients in the health-care industry or if your work involves close contact with blood products or other bodily secretions. In addition, if you have a condition that requires frequent blood transfusions (such as sickle cell disease or hemophilia), it is a good idea for you to get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
Keep in mind that Guillain Barré Syndrome is quite rare, and many other infections can trigger Guillain Barré Syndrome. It is proven that certain stomach infections can trigger Guillain Barré Syndrome. Finally, most patients with Guillain Barré Syndrome make a full recovery. It may take many months or even years, but permanent disability resulting from Guillain Barré is unusual.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Many parents also report that the hepatitis B vaccine killed their babies. However, when you look at the number of babies who die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) who have never gotten the hepatitis B vaccine and the ones who did, the number is the same. SIDS is the number one cause of death for babies, even before the hepatitis B vaccine was invented. Despite having babies sleeping on their backs instead of their tummies, which has greatly reduced the number of deaths, many babies still die from SIDS today.
A study in 2008 showed that the use of a ceiling fan or portable fan can significantly reduce the chance of babies dying from SIDS. The theory is that the fan reduces the room temperature, and a hot room poses greater risk for babies who may die from SIDS.
More babies died from SIDS in the days before the hepatitis B vaccine was ever invented than today, and the introduction of hepatitis B vaccine did not lead to an increased number of deaths for babies. It is very unlikely that the hepatitis B vaccine is responsible for SIDS. Some babies inevitably die from SIDS after receiving the hepatitis B vaccine, but these babies would most likely suffer from SIDS whether they received the hepatitis B vaccine or not.
The most important thing you can do as a parent to protect your baby from SIDS is to always place your baby on her back to sleep and use a fan in the room when your baby is sleeping. Avoid putting any pillows, stuffed animals, or loose blankets in the crib. Use a wearable body wrap blanket instead of a loose one to prevent suffocation that can be caused if your baby gets tangled.