New Zealand Allows U.S. Travelers Vaccinated Against Hepatitis B to Be Treated at Home

Christchurch. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

The New Zealand government will allow international travelers arriving from the U.S. with vaccine for hepatitis B to be inoculated at home in 2022, Premier Jacinda Ardern said Friday.

New Zealand has been one of a handful of countries that has not allowed travelers without hepatitis B vaccinations to enter. The policy, believed to have affected about 1,400 travelers annually since 2013, has been maintained in order to meet a need for immunity among people in those countries who were less likely to seek treatment. Now, exemptions for non-Hepatitis B immunizations must be approved by the director of health before they can be submitted, and immunization clinics have been suspended.

“[I]t was decided that an increase in immunity for our international travelers was the best way to provide the best possible protection for people overseas,” said Ardern. “Immunization is, in our view, the best possible way to safeguard against the very rare but potentially serious occurrence of illness.”

Hepatitis B is known as an easily transmitted disease that can cause liver damage and death if it isn’t detected early. In the U.S., hepatitis is transmitted through blood and tissues. Most people who fall ill can be treated with antiviral medications. However, serious complications can occur if the virus goes undetected, a situation that happens when victims travel without enough antibodies in their bodies to fight the disease. That is why, despite the vast majority of countries in the world having recommended vaccinations for the immunization, New Zealand has maintained a policy of banning international visitors who failed to include the vaccine in their immunization history. According to the World Health Organization, the risk of getting hepatitis B in the U.S. is very low, less than 1 in 1 million people, though global mortality rates among those with the virus is high, especially among people living in impoverished countries.

U.S. lawmakers have pushed for the exemption to be abolished entirely, but last November, the World Health Organization recommended the removal of the vaccine exclusion as a practice harmful to public health.

That decision makes New Zealand’s approach particularly noteworthy for its reasoning behind the decision. The government of New Zealand has been extremely at odds with the Trump administration over the expulsions of asylum-seekers and the country’s decision to stop accepting refugees from Iran and Syria. The country also took exception to the decision made in the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, branding the move “a critical blow to the global fight against climate change.”

It is not known whether the decision on international travel is connected to the potential for increased tensions between the U.S. and New Zealand. A spike in interest in New Zealand as a destination for visitors from the U.S. spiked after U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to ban citizens from Syria, Iran, and six other predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. in his campaign for the presidency.

Today, around 25 percent of visitors to New Zealand are Americans. In 2014, that number was around 12 percent.


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