The hepatitis B vaccine is widely considered to be safe and effective at preventing the occurence of hepatitis B, a disease which can cause scarring and subsequent cancer of the liver if left untreated. In the UK, it was recently added to the schedule of vaccinations offered to babies. Hepatitis B vaccine was introduced in its current form in 1986, and rolled out as a major public health improvement in many countries through the 1990s.
However, a study published in 2004 caused concern. The study suggested that people who had had a hepatitis B vaccination in the previous three years were slightly more likely to develop MS than those who did not. Out of 163 people with MS, 11 (6.7%) had had the hepatitis B vaccination compared with 1,604 people without MS, of whom 39 (2.4%) had been vaccinated.
Although this research suggests a possible role for the vaccine in the onset of multiple sclerosis, the vast majority of people who developed MS had not had the hepatitis B vaccination.
Because vaccinations are so common, even a small increase in risk of MS could have a significant effect on public health. As such, the claims made by this single study have been repeatedly checked. There has been no further evidence found for a link between hepatitis B vaccination and the onset of multiple sclerosis.
In brief, an analysis of all the published research on demyelinating diseases and Hepatitis B vaccination in 2018 found no evidence of an association. Other studies on people who already have MS showed no link between having the Hepatitis B vaccination and having a relapse. In children who had had one episode of neurological symptoms, receiving the Hepatitis B vaccination made no difference to whether or not they went on to develop MS.
One explanation of the 2004 study results is that it picked up a few people who had underlying MS, and the Hepatitis B vaccine brought on their symptoms a little sooner. Given the serious and at times fatal nature of hepatitis B, the recommendation is to have the vaccination if necessary.