Editorial on hep B vaccine

Campaign Australia, July 1983, p 4:

THERE HAVE recently been suggestions made that the new hepatitis vaccine may be transmitting AIDS and therefore unsafe. The fact that these reports have been coming from what seem to be medically qualified sources, such as the Chairman of the national Red Cross, Professor Pennington, has added a great deal of credibility to these warnings.

The Medical Journal of Australia, for instance, in its “Leading Article” of the most recent issue, has said: “Doubts about the safety of hepatitis B vaccine have also arisen, because New York homosexual men comprise a high percentage of the HBsAg donor pool.” The mass media have picked up on these doubts and reported them as medical fact, thereby effectively discouraging people from seeking vaccination.

Although there is no way of absolutely guaranteeing the safety of the vaccine, or of any drug, there is not a single shred of evidence to point to any danger of Hep-B-Vax. The same article of the Medical Journal points out that “no known transmissible agent retains infectivity after the inactivation steps during production, nor has any follow-up of the groups vaccinated since 1980 shown any significant difference in AIDS incidence from that of the controls.”

Hepatitis B is the single most serious health problem facing homosexual men in Australia. Clinics involved in the screening of sexually active gay men report that the percentage of patients showing up as having caught the disease at some time in the past is in the region of 60%. It should also be remembered that 1-2% of all cases become life-threatening – that is people die.

Not only are responsible sections of the community here lobbying to have this expensive vaccine (about $220 retail for the three required doses) made freely available by having it placed on the list of drugs provided by national health, they are also doing their utmost to encourage sexually active gay men to request screening and vaccination.

Responsible caution is one thing, but the current rumour campaign about Hep-B-Vax is utterly irresponsible in the face of a killer disease that, unlike AIDS, is endemic in our urban gay communities.

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