Hepatitis B in Italy: Where we are ten years after the introduction of mass vaccination



In Italy, a program of vaccination against hepatitis B targeted at the immunisation of persons at high risk began in 1983. In 1991, vaccination became mandatory for all newborns and adolescents. Since then, the vaccine has been given to more than 10 million children, with an outstanding record of safety and efficacy. The coverage rate is globally around 94%, with differences between the Northern and Southern regions, with the latter having the lower acceptance rate. According to the National Surveillance System (SEIEVA), the incidence of acute hepatitis B per 105 inhabitants declined from 5.4 in 1990 to 2 in 2000. The reduction was even greater among 15–24-year-old individuals, where the incidence rate per 105 decreased from 17.3 to 2 in the same period. In parallel with the decline of hepatitis B, hepatitis delta has also declined significantly. Catch-up immunisation of unvaccinated adolescents, as well as an effort to improve the vaccination coverage rate in high-risk groups, are required to ameliorate the efficacy of the vaccination campaign. Routine administration of booster doses of vaccine is not considered necessary to sustain immunity in immunocompetent persons. J. Med. Virol. 67:440–443, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.