Study Mulls Hepatitis Vaccine Rate

CHICAGO-- A study of three large Vietnamese-American communities found extremely low rates of vaccination among youngsters for hepatitis B, a sometimes fatal liver disease that is prevalent among Vietnamese adults.

Poor access to health care as well as treatment by doctors whose training in Vietnam did not emphasize preventive care were among possible reasons cited for the low rates.

The study was published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Though most people infected with the virus recover, up to 10 percent do not, becoming chronic carriers who can infect others and are at risk for developing liver cancer.

The virus is spread through blood and sexual contact. An estimated 1.25 million Americans are infected, but rates are disproportionately high among the estimated 1 million-plus Vietnamese-Americans.

Up to 14 percent of Vietnamese-American adults may be infected, compared with less than one-half of 1 percent of all U.S. adults.

Also, Vietnamese men in the United States have the highest rate of liver cancer of any ethnic group - more than 11 times higher than among white men, the researchers said.

Government estimates suggest that at least 84 percent of all U.S. children ages 19 months to 35 months have received the three doses generally recommended in infancy.

But the researchers, led by University of California at San Francisco researcher Christopher Jenkins, found substantially lower rates among older Vietnamese children in the Washington, Dallas and Houston metropolitan areas.

Based on telephone interviews in 1998 with 1,508 Vietnamese households and attempts to verify immunization records, the researchers found that overall just 13.6 percent of children ages 3 through 18 had received three doses. Only 4 percent of children ages 12 to 18 were fully vaccinated.

Nearly a third of respondents were uninsured and fewer than a quarter knew that free shots were available, the study found.Many of the children studied entered school before hepatitis B vaccines became routine for U.S. children during the past decade. Most states require hepatitis B shots for school admission.