Author(s): Basuni AA, Butterworth L, Cooksley G, Locarnini S, Carman WF
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Abstract The prevalence rate of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in Pacific Island countries is amongst the highest in the world. Hepatitis B immunisation has been incorporated into national programmes at various times, often with erratic supply and coverage, until a regionally co-ordinated programme, which commenced in 1995 ensured adequate supply. The effectiveness of these programmes was recently evaluated in four countries, Vanuatu and Fiji in Melanesia, Tonga in Polynesia and Kiribati in Micronesia. That evaluation established that the programmes had a substantial beneficial impact in preventing chronic hepatitis B infection [Vaccine 18 (2000) 3059]. Several studies of hepatitis B vaccination programmes in endemic countries have identified the potential significance of surface gene mutants as a cause for failure of immunisation. In the study outlined in this paper, we screened infected children and their mothers for the emergence and prevalence of these variants in specimens collected from the four country evaluation. Although the opportunity for the emergence of HBV vaccine escape mutants in these populations was high due to the presence of a considerable amount of the virus in the population and the selection pressure from vaccine use, there were no "a" determinant vaccine escape mutants found. This suggests that vaccine escape variants are not an important cause for failure to prevent HBV transmission in this setting. Other HBsAg variants were detected, but their functional significance remains to be determined. The failure to provide satisfactory protection during such immunisation programmes reflects the need for achieving and sustaining high vaccine coverage, improving the timeliness of doses as well as improving 'cold-chain' support, rather than the selection of vaccine-escape mutants of HBV.
This article was published in Vaccine
and referenced in Journal of Vaccines & Vaccination