An Abridged History of Hepatitis B and Understanding the Vaccine

Michael Varenbut
2 min readApr 3, 2019


Hepatitis B was first discovered in 1965, by Dr. Baruch Blumburg who detected its presence in blood samples. It was discovered by accident, during a study to identify genes that result in susceptibility to certain diseases. This accidental discovery led to a significant medical breakthrough and resulted in a snowballing of research and studies to be conducted in the future surrounding the virus and its causes and consequences.

Often, hepatitis B is not entirely understood or conflated with other types of hepatitis. It is a severe liver infection caused by a virus that can be transmitted through infected blood and sex, similarly to HIV. However, you can not get it through sharing food, or drinks, hugging, kissing, or sneezing. Some of its many symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, joint pain, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice. It is relatively severe and can be debilitating, as well as possibly developing into Liver Cancer

Hepatitis B was officially recognized in 1967, after further research on behalf of Dr. Blumberg and his team. In 1969 they invented a vaccine for it. “The US Food and Drug Administration named it the first ‘anti-cancer’ vaccine because the prevention of chronic hepatitis infections results in the prevention of primary liver cancer due to HBV.” This was a drastic discovery, as about 80% of those who had chronic hepatitis B developed liver cancer.

In 1976, Dr. Baruch Blumberg won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for this discovery. Today, the hepatitis B vaccine can be given to a child within 24 hours of birth, and the vaccine is typically provided in 3 doses over six months. These vaccinations ensure long-term protection against the virus well into adulthood. Occasionally, vaccine booster in adulthood may be required.

The hepatitis B vaccination was ground-breaking in the medical field, as it was one of the most common infectious diseases in the world. Unfortunately, although the virus can be prevented, it is still not possible for it to be treated in patients who have already developed the virus. The medical field is still working to eradicate the disease and diminish symptoms and long-term complications for those who already have it. Today, the highest percentage of people who live with this virus are located in Africa, Asia, and the Western Pacific. It is necessary that we continue to work to eradicate hepatitis B, as it is a prominent global health issue and one that affects over 350 million people world-wide.