In July 1982, five Hartford hospitals embarked on a joint hospital-sponsored program to immunize high-risk employees against hepatitis B virus (HBV). The program included a questionnaire to characterize relative risk, serology for anti-HBs, vaccination and a follow-up survey of vaccine non-recipients.
Of 2,065 employees who were considered to be at high-risk for infection with HBV, 1,894 (91.7%) responded to the screening questionnaire and 1,279 (67.5%) were tested for anti-HBs serology. The prevalence of antibody varied from hospital to hospital; the highest prevalence (10.9%) was observed at one of the urban university-affiliated community hospitals and the lowest prevalence (4.1%) was reported from the smaller, rural hospital. The prevalence of antibody also varied greatly within the high-risk groups; the highest prevalence of antibody was seen among surgical house officers (15%). The rate of acceptance of vaccine among hospitals ranged from 57.5% to 23.7%. Reasons for vaccine non-acceptance included fear of as yet unknown side effects, perceived low risk of hepatitis acquisition and possible effects on present or future pregnancies.
Our experience illustrates some of the epidemiologic and practical aspects that must be addressed in administering a hospital-based HBV vaccine program. Among the five hospitals, we saw marked inter- and intra-hospital variations in the prevalence of anti-HBs among high-risk employees. More significantly, we observed unexpectedly low rates of vaccine acceptance among high-risk personnel.