Liver disease and liver cancer associated with childhood-acquired chronic hepatitis B are leading causes of death among adults in China. Despite expanded newborn hepatitis B vaccination programs, approximately 20% of children under age 5 years and 40% of children aged 5 to 19 years remain unprotected from hepatitis B. Although immunizing them will be beneficial, no studies have examined the cost-effectiveness of hepatitis B catch-up vaccination in an endemic country like China. We examined the cost-effectiveness of a hypothetical nationwide free hepatitis B catch-up vaccination program in China for unvaccinated children and adolescents aged 1 to 19 years. We used a Markov model for disease progression and infections. Cost variables were based on data published by the Chinese Ministry of Health, peer-reviewed Chinese and English publications, and the GAVI Alliance. We measured costs (2008 U.S. dollars and Chinese renminbi), quality-adjusted life years, and incremental cost-effectiveness from a societal perspective. Our results show that hepatitis B catch-up vaccination for children and adolescents in China is cost-saving across a range of parameters, even for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years old. We estimate that if all 150 million susceptible children under 19 were vaccinated, more than 8 million infections and 65,000 deaths due to hepatitis B would be prevented.
Conclusion: The adoption of a nationwide free catch-up hepatitis B vaccination program for unvaccinated children and adolescents in China, in addition to ongoing efforts to improve birth dose and newborn vaccination coverage, will be cost-saving and can generate significant population-wide health benefits. The success of such a program in China could serve as a model for other endemic countries.