As in other countries
[10, 12], concerns about vaccine safety persist in Georgia among the general population as well as among HCWs. What may be unique to this country is a pervasive and persistent concern that transcends the safety data for this vaccine. While HBV vaccine has an excellent safety and efficacy record
[13–17], perceptions in Georgia have been affected by general concerns about vaccine safety and effectiveness and specifically by one highly publicized neurologic event that occurred a week after an HBV vaccination in Georgia
. Overcoming these misconceptions to develop a strong and sustainable universal vaccination program is crucial to reduce HBV in newborns and children and help eliminate HBV- associated liver disease and the economic burden of this disease for Georgia.
This study found that 36% of HCWs did not recommend HBV vaccination for newborns. Only two groups of HCWs appeared to be importantly different: dialysis workers who see the impact of HBV among their patients at very high risk of the infection, and HCWs who are vaccinated against HBV. However, as evidence of the intractable nature of vaccine safety concerns, one in every ten of these HCWs would also recommend against HBV vaccine for newborns. Age correlated with vaccine status, with older HCWs being the least likely to be vaccinated and least likely to recommend vaccine. These findings provide insight into the demographics of concern about vaccine safety and inform the development of potential interventions to improve knowledge about HBV vaccination.
There was no statistically significant difference in the prevalence of anti-HBc in vaccinated and unvaccinated persons. This could be probably explained by the fact that during the HCW’s HBV vaccination campaign in 2001 there was no HBV antibody testing conducted prior to HBV vaccination and those being already HBV infected without knowing it received the vaccine.
During the study period over 80% of HCWs were not yet vaccinated against HBV. While this finding is similar to many developing countries
[18–20], it is the polar opposite of most developed countries where the majority of HCWs are vaccinated
[21–24]. These unvaccinated HCWs are substantially less likely to recommend vaccine to newborns. Fear of adverse events and lack of knowledge regarding vaccine efficacy are major factors affecting many HCWs recommendations and personal health practices. While these issues may be addressed by educational programs, the specific experiences of this population suggest educational programs alone are insufficient. Targeted programs which specifically address the publicized event and shed light on the facts may help assuage some concerns.
Personal experience with HBV vaccine appears to be associated with recommending vaccine to newborns.
Having received HBV vaccine is associated with a healthcare worker recommending the vaccine to newborns. The reasons a healthcare worker might receive the vaccine may be complex. Yet access to the vaccine may be a key factor. If the vaccine is available to the HCW and the barrier of cost is removed, it seems likely that the HCW may consider the personal cost-benefit relationship in a different context. They ultimately may see the benefits of the vaccine as more favourable, receive the vaccine and ultimately be more likely to recommend HBV vaccination for newborns as well as others.
Vaccination programs for HCWs can be justified based on their occupational risk of infection. Cost is always a factor in any vaccine initiative. Some hospitals in a neighbouring country, Turkey, have screened HCWs upon employment and identified those susceptible to HBV for vaccination. This screening and vaccine program is cost-effective given the relatively large proportion of HCWs that have already been exposed to HBV. In Georgia, approximately 30% of HCWs have evidence of prior HBV exposure and thus would not directly benefit from the vaccine. The remaining HCWs would benefit from the vaccine and safety data suggests that those HCWs who were already vaccinated would not be harmed by revaccination (essentially an additional booster)
[25, 26]. This last point is important because one significant barrier to a screening program is the potential harm caused by employers identifying HCWs who are infectious. Thus, creating an accessible national program for HCW vaccination must rely on a confidential screening program, or universal vaccination for those with an unreliable vaccination history.
Cost-effectiveness studies on HBV vaccine programs for HCWs typically focus on the occupational risks of HBV infection and benefit of the vaccine to protect HCWs and patients
[27, 28]. This study suggests increasing the proportion of HCWs vaccinated for HBV may increase vaccination coverage of newborns and children.
This study had a strong sampling design and benefited from laboratory testing to establish exposure to HBV. Like all studies, it also had limitations. The primary limitation is that all other information was self-reported. Based on the results, there does not appear to be substantial bias due to social desirability as the proportion of HCWs recommending vaccine is relatively low. Another limitation is that participation was not 100%. It is possible that HCWs with active disease were more likely to refuse participation. However, this would not alter the overall conclusions.
The prevalence of HBV infection (anti-HBc) among study participants was about 29%, higher than the prevalence among the general population in Georgia (20%)
. This difference could be explained by the occupational exposure to HBV among HCWs. Even if the majority of HCWs are not likely to develop significant liver disease sequelae if infected later in life, they can transmit the virus to patients and household members who have not been vaccinated. Thus, it would be useful to assess cost-effectiveness of screening for both HBV antibodies prior to vaccinating susceptibles and universal vaccination for HCWs in the absence of screening. In either case, cost-effectiveness analyses of HBV vaccination programs for HCWs should broaden their assessment of benefits.
In 2009 the Ministry of Labour, Health, and Social Affairs of Georgia and the National Center for Diseases Control established a hepatitis B catch-up vaccination program for at-risk healthcare workers, medical students, and adolescents in three regions of the country: Tbilisi (capital city with 1/3 of Georgia population), Imereti and Adjara (regions in western Georgia) with support of Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Foundation.
By 2010, 12,963 health care workers have been screened for hepatitis B (Anti-HBc) and 4,579 (35.3%) appeared to be Anti-HBc(+). The rest of HCWs were offered administration of HBV vaccine on a voluntary basis, from which 7,000 have been vaccinated against hepatitis B.
No study was conducted to estimate the impact of vaccination campaign among HCWs on the attitude of HCWs towards HBV vaccine and their willingness to recommend it to the children.