Health care students are frequently exposed to blood-borne pathogens, placing them at increased risk for hepatitis B infection, but hepatitis B vaccination rates among this population lag behind national recommendations, study results indicate.

Only 59.8% of a 4,075 health care student cohort had documentation of complete vaccination against hepatitis B despite the government’s Healthy People 2010 goal of 90% coverage among health care workers, according to data published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

Study data, which included information from students matriculated between June 2000 and June 2010, indicated that a higher proportion, 83.8%, were protected against hepatitis B when tested for the presence of antibodies to the virus.

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But few students were vaccinated in accordance with CDC and Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendations at the time.

The majority of students with documented vaccination were vaccinated only recently, either during or a few years prior to matriculation, despite the decision in 1995 that all previously unvaccinated children aged 11 to 12 years receive the vaccine. Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all children younger than 18 years, as of 1999

The CDC recommends that all health care workers who may be exposed to blood or blood-contaminated products should be both vaccinated for hepatitis B and tested for antibodies to ensure protection against infection.

The researchers caution that the study results are not generalizable to other institutions, as data is limited to students attending one university in the southeastern United States.

Tohme RA et al. Infection Control and Epidemiology. 2011. 32;doi: 10.1086/661102.