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Is the Hepatitis B Vaccine Shortage Still Affecting Dental Practices?

Is the Hepatitis B Vaccine Shortage Still Affecting Dental Practices?

Expert view

Most people who work in the dental sector will already be aware of the Hepatitis B vaccine shortage that has been happening since 2017.

Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver. It’s spread by contact with blood of bodily fluids of someone who is carrying the infection. There are 250 million people estimated to carry the infection.

Within a dental practice, there are dangers of the infection being spread by to the staff when they are treating patients with Hepatitis B or that the dentists could spread the infection to their patients.

It’s because of these risks that all healthcare workers including dentists and dental nurses are advised to have the Hepatitis B vaccination.

But as a result of the shortage of the vaccine, Public Health England (PHE) have put temporary guidelines in place that place people into categories depending on their risk. These categories are 1 for the highest risk and 5 for the lowest risk. Dentists are classified at level 3, with dental nurses at level 4.

Whilst every dentist who is trained in the UK is vaccinated whilst they are completing their training, they still need to access booster injections every 5 years and any dentists who trained outside of the UK may not already be vaccinated.

As a dental practice owner, this probably feels like you’re being exposed to some risks as a result. You may have had staff who are not vaccinated discuss this issue with you and refuse to treat patients as a result. This could leave you with serious staffing issues or you may have taken other action.

We’ve spoken to some dental practice principals who've asked their staff to sign a declaration that effectively states that they are aware of the risks and that they are happy to continue to treat patients. They feel that their staff’s acknowledgement and acceptance of the risk means that they are not liable if any of them should go on and contract Hepatitis B.

But you have a duty of care to keep your employees safe as an employer. It’s unlikely that you can discharge this duty of care just by asking your staff to acknowledge and accept the risks.

As a law firm that deals with so many dental practices, we would advise you to take the following steps if you have staff in your practice who are having Hepatitis B vaccine supply issues:

Step 1: Complete a risk assessment.
You will already have done this, but because of the additional risks associated with having staff who may not be adequately protected from Hepatitis B, you should carry out a specific risk assessment. This will identify if you need to remove any of your staff from frontline patient treatment.

Step 2: Speak to your indemnity organisation
They can give you further help and advice on how to handle this situation and where you stand as an employer

Step 3: Reinforce all infection prevention and control measures
Again, this will be something you already do, but reinforcing them with all staff will help to remind everyone of their role in infection prevention and control.

Step 4: Prompt Reporting of any exposure
This particularly applies to any staff who have had their vaccine deferred so they can be given retroviral medication after exposure.

If you’re still not sure about the risks your practice is exposed to, please call and speak to one of our dental team who can give you the advice you need to protect your business and your employees.

Call now on 0117 926 4121 or make a Free Enquiry Online.