Advocating for Prevention—Universal Immunization for Hepatitis B
On Christmas Day 1989, a Langley, B.C mother lost her 16-year-old daughter to acute hepatitis B. When she learned that there was a vaccine available that could have saved her daughter’s life, Bobbi Bower launched a campaign for universal immunization in Vancouver and took her fight all the way to the provincial government.
Through this process, she partnered with the Canadian Liver Foundation’s (CLF) Victoria Chapter alongside Chapter President, George Clark, who was already spearheading the CLF’s efforts to achieve the same goal.
Adding to this movement was evidence that had been brought to light in the early 1990s indicating that a selective hepatitis B vaccination strategy (an immunization plan aimed only at high-risk individuals like the homeless or those who use intravenous drugs) was failing to decrease the number of hepatitis B infections in Canada.
Undoubtedly, it was time for a change.
At a National level, the CLF had already been advocating for universal hepatitis B immunization of newborns across the country. After having made a presentation to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the CLF’s efforts were rewarded when NACI put the wheels in motion for a universal vaccination program.
In 1992, British Columbia was the first province to implement a program to vaccinate the homeless, occupational risk groups, and grade six students. In its first year, over 90% of eligible 11-year-olds in BC received the hepatitis B vaccination. Over the next four years, all other provinces followed suit and introduced hepatitis B vaccination programs.
When the provinces began rolling out their immunization programs in elementary schools, the CLF provided comprehensive information kits to help students, parents and teachers understand the facts of hepatitis B and the importance of getting vaccinated.
In the years to come, the CLF continued to promote the importance of hepatitis B immunization by spearheading campaigns involving the Canadian Football League (CFL), the Ontario Safety Service Alliance, the Alberta school systems and other organizations.
We have also engaged in the widespread promotion of hepatitis A and B vaccinations through multi-media advertising as well as media outreach and educational materials for physicians.
Knowledge is a powerful weapon when fighting any liver disease. Over the course of our history, the CLF has made it a priority to share that knowledge with the public, patients, health care professionals and more. With knowledge comes power—the power to protect your liver health, the power to overcome the day-to-day struggle of living with liver disease, and most of all, the power to bring about change.
Through Bobbi’s experience losing her teenage daughter to a preventable disease, it’s easy to see why advocacy is an essential tool to voice the rights of Canadians and bring sweeping change to our healthcare system.