The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) approved new recommendations for hepatitis A vaccinations, including a focus on catch up vaccines for adolescents and those over age 40 years.

While hepatitis A cases have dropped significantly since the vaccine’s debut – with the number of reported cases in 2015 dropping to 1,390, compared with 9,606 in 1971 – previous recommendations regarding catch-up vaccinations suggested patients should consider treatment, as opposed to catch-up vaccination.

Now, children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 18 years who have not been vaccinated are advised to get vaccinated according to the current recommended dose and schedule, say the new recommendations.

Adult catch-up vaccines now are recommended to be considered in areas with increasing disease risks, an addition that was not part of the current recommendations but has been changed because of evidence that patients over 40 years old are more vulnerable to the virus and more likely to be hospitalized if infected, said Noele Nelson, MD, PhD, of the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the CDC.

“Increasing proportions of adults in the United States are susceptible to hepatitis A … due to reduced exposure to virus early in life and significant serum prevalence in older adults greater and equal to 40 years,” said Dr. Nelson. “In addition, there is low two-dose vaccination coverage among adults, including high risk adults, and morbidity and mortality increases with age.”

Recommendations for pregnant women also have been updated with a more definitive message. Previous recommendations advised pregnant women to weigh the options of acquiring hepatitis A against possible adverse effects of the vaccine. But, new evidence was presented at the meeting: in a study of 139 pregnant women vaccinated between 1996 and 2015 who experienced adverse effects, only seven of the effects were considered serious, and no maternal or infant deaths were apparent. In light of this, the ACIP approved the recommendation change to advise all pregnant women to be vaccinated, if they have not already been so before pregnancy.

Updates also included recommendations for patients with chronic liver disease, who are considered to be members of a high-risk population. Newly approved recommendations include a section on epidemiology, which states that, while those with chronic liver disease are not at increased risk for hepatitis A virus infection unless they experience fecal-oral exposure to the virus, those with acute hepatitis A may be more at risk to develop more severe liver disease. Recommendations for those with chronic liver disease also include a statement advising patients to seek immunoglobulin, as well as a hepatitis A, vaccination as soon as possible after exposure.

The ACIP also approved a change in recommendations to advise all residents and caretakers of those living in a group home, specifically those caring for developmentally disabled patients, to be vaccinated because of the historically high endemic nature of such institutions.

Committee members hope these new recommendations will help the United States reach its goal of a national hepatitis A case ratio of 0.3/100,000 people and a hepatitis A vaccination rate of 85%.

If these recommendations are approved by the director of the CDC and the U.S. Health Department, as they usually are, they will be published in the CDC’s Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report.

Members of the committee reported no relevant financial disclosures.

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