Hepatitis B vaccine: Should we give it a shot?



Objective: To determine clinical and economic consequences of alternative vaccination strategies for preventing hepatitis B virus infection (HBV).

Methods: Decision analysis was used to evaluate costs, outcomes, and cost-effectiveness of three HBV management strategies (“no vaccination,” “universal vaccination,” and “screen and vaccinate”) in four populations (newborns, 10-year-old adolescents, a high-risk adult population, and the general adult U.S. population). Information on HBV incidence and prevalence, clinical course, and management of acute illness and chronic sequelae was obtained from the literature and a panel of experts. Actual payments (costs) were obtained from Blue Cross/Blue Shield and local pharmacies. Incremental cost-effectiveness was calculated from the perspective of the payer of medical care and subjected to sensitivity analysis.

Results: Vaccination (with or without screening) prevents more disease at somewhat increased cost than no vaccination for the neonatal, adolescent, and adult populations. Vaccination (with or without screening) is a dominant strategy in adult high-risk populations (lower cost and greater benefit than no vaccination). Optimal cost-effectiveness, with nonmonetary benefits not discounted, results if all pregnant women are screened for active HBV infection, and HBV vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin are administered to babies born to mothers with positive screening tests. Then HBV vaccine is administered to all children at age 10 and again 10 years later (incremental cost-per-year-of-life-saved relative to the “no vaccination” strategy is $375). A strategy of universal newborn vaccination alone leads to an incremental cost-per-year-of-life saved of $3332. If adolescents are vaccinated at age 10, incremental cost-per-year-of-life saved is $13,938; for the general adult population, the incremental cost-per-year-of-life saved of universal vaccination is $54,524. Discounting benefits will increase cost-per-year-of-life saved 7 to 12 times for all strategies.

Conclusions: HBV vaccine is most cost-effective when a strategy of screening newborns is combined with routine administration to 10-year-old children. The means to achieve substantial improvements in the health of the public in a cost-effective fashion are now available and should be pursued aggressively.