Universal Hep B Testing, Vaccination Seen
Cost-Effective in Pregnant Women

Jeff Craven

February 10, 2022

Screening for hepatitis B antibodies and vaccinating pregnant women without immunity appears to be a cost-effective health measure, according to a recent analysis published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Malavika Prabhu, MD, of the division of maternal-fetal medicine and department of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, said in an interview that the impetus to conduct the study came from the idea that hepatitis B is a concern throughout a woman's life, but not necessarily during pregnancy. While vaccination is not routine during pregnancy, guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists state that at-risk women should be screened and vaccinated for hepatitis B during pregnancy.

"What we thought made more sense just from thinking about other principles of prenatal care was that it would make sense for us to screen, see who's susceptible, counsel them on the risk of hepatitis B, and then vaccinate them in the course of the pregnancy," Prabhu said.

After writing a commentary arguing in favor of universal screening and vaccination, she and her colleagues noted it was still unclear whether that approach was cost effective, she said. "Health care costs in this country are so expensive at baseline that, as we continue to add more things to health care, we have to make sure that it's value added."

Prabhu and her colleagues evaluated a theoretical cohort of 3.6 million pregnant women in the United States and created a decision-analytic model to determine how universal hepatitis B surface antibody screening and vaccination for hepatitis B affected factors such as cost, cost-effectiveness, and outcomes. They included hepatitis B virus cases as well as long-term problems associated with hepatitis B infection such as hepatocellular carcinoma, decompensated cirrhosis, liver transplant, and death. Assumptions of the model were that 84% of the women would undergo the screening, 61% would receive the vaccine, and 90% would seroconvert after the vaccine series, and were based on probabilities from other studies.

The cost-effectiveness ratio was calculated as the total cost and quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) relative to the lifetime of the woman after the index pregnancy, with $50,000 per QALY set as the willingness-to-pay threshold. The researchers also performed an additional analysis and simulations to estimate which variables had the most effect, and an additional model was created to estimate the effect of universal screening and vaccination if at-risk patients were removed.

Prabhu and colleagues found the universal screening and vaccination program was cost effective, with 1,702 fewer cases of hepatitis B, 11 fewer deaths, 7 fewer decompensated cirrhosis cases, and 4 fewer liver transplants in their model. The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio was $1,890 per QALY, and the total increased lifetime cohort cost was $13,841,889. The researchers said the model held up in scenarios where there was a high level of hepatitis B immunity, and when at-risk women were removed from the model.

"While it does increase some costs to the health care system to screen everyone and vaccinate those susceptible; overall, it would cost more to not do that because we're avoiding all of those long-term devastating health outcomes by vaccinating in pregnancy," Prabhu said in an interview.

Hepatitis B Screening and Vaccination for All Pregnant Women?

Is universal hepatitis B screening and vaccination for pregnant women an upcoming change in prenatal care? In a related editorial, Martina L. Badell, MD, of the division of maternal-fetal medicine and department of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, emphasized the hepatitis B vaccine's safety and effectiveness during pregnancy based on prior studies and compared a universal hepatitis B screening and vaccination program for pregnant women to how clinicians screen universally for rubella as standard of care in this group.

"Owing to the success of rubella vaccination campaigns, today there are fewer than 10 cases of rubella in the United States annually, and, since 2012, all of these cases have been in persons infected when living in or traveling to other countries," she wrote. "Approximately 850,000 people are living with hepatitis B infection in the United States, and approximately 21,900 acute hepatitis B infections occurred in 2015. Despite the very different prevalence in these infections, we currently screen pregnant and nonpregnant patients for rubella immunity but not hepatitis B."

If real-world studies bear out that a hepatitis B universal screening and vaccination program is cost effective, guidelines on who should be screened and vaccinated might need to be reconsidered, Prabhu said. Although following women for decades to see whether hepatitis B screening and vaccination is cost effective is impractical, "a lot of medicine has been predicated on risk-based strategies and risk stratifying, and there is a lot of value to approaching patients like that," she explained.

How an ob/gyn determines whether a patient is high risk and qualifies for hepatitis B vaccination under current guidelines is made more complicated by the large amount of information covered in a prenatal visit. There is a "laundry list" of risk factors to consider, and "patients are just meeting you for the first time, and so they may not feel comfortable completely sharing what their risk factors may or may not be," Prabhu said. In addition, they may not know the risk factors of their partners.

Under guidelines where all pregnant women are screened and vaccinated for hepatitis B regardless of risk, "it doesn't harm a woman to check one extra blood test when she's already having this bevy of blood tests at the first prenatal visit," she said.

Clinicians may be more aware of the need to add hepatitis B screening to prenatal care given that routine hepatitis C screening for pregnant women was recently released by ACOG as a practice advisory. "I think hepatitis is a little bit more on the forefront of the obstetrician or prenatal care provider's mind as a result of that recent shift," she said.

"A lot of women only really access care and access consistent care during their pregnancy, either due to insurance reasons or work reasons. People do things for their developing fetus that they might not do for themselves," Prabhu said. "It's a unique opportunity to have the time to build a relationship, build some trust in the health care system and also educate women about their health and what they can do to keep themselves in good health.

"It's more than just about the next 9 months and keeping you and your baby safe, so I think there's a real opportunity for us to think about the public health and the long-term health of a woman."

One author reported receiving funding from UpToDate; the other authors reported no relevant financial disclosures. Badell reported no relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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