"Do we really need hepatitis B on the second day of life?" vaccination mandates and shifting representations of hepatitis B

J Med Humanit. 2011 Jun;32(2):155-66. doi: 10.1007/s10912-010-9132-2.


In the decade following hepatitis B vaccine's 1981 approval, U.S. health officials issued evolving guidelines on who should receive the vaccine: first, gay men, injection drug users, and healthcare workers; later, hepatitis B-positive women's children; and later still, all newborns. States laws that mandated the vaccine for all children were quietly accepted in the 1990s; in the 2000s, however, popular anti-vaccine sentiment targeted the shot as an emblem of immunization policy excesses. Shifting attitudes toward the vaccine in this period were informed by hepatitis B's changing popular image, legible in textual and visual representations of the infection from the 1980s through the 1990s. Notably, the outbreak of AIDS, the advent of genetically engineered pharmaceuticals, and a Democratic push for health reform shaped and reshaped hepatitis B's public image. Hepatitis B thus became, in turn, an AIDS-like scourge; proof of a new era of pharmaceuticals; a threat from which all American children had a right to be protected; and a cancer-causing infection spread by teenage lifestyles. The metamorphosis of the infection's image was reflected in evolving policy recommendations regarding who should receive the vaccine in the 1980s, and was key to securing broad uptake of the vaccine in the 1990s.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Welfare / history*
  • Child Welfare / psychology
  • Child Welfare / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Policy / history
  • Hepatitis B / history
  • Hepatitis B / prevention & control*
  • Hepatitis B Vaccines*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Immunization Programs / history*
  • Prejudice
  • Social Perception


  • Hepatitis B Vaccines