Why Isn’t There a Vaccine for Hepatitis C?

Vaccines exist for hepatitis A and B, but not for hepatitis C - Why not? Hepatitis C is a viral infection that primarily attacks the liver, causing liver damage which can lead to compromised liver function.

What are genotypes?

There are differences in hepatitis A, B, and C, even though they are all viruses that attack the liver. Hepatitis C has 7 known genotypes, along with numerous subtypes. The Mayo Clinic states that about 60 subtypes have been identified.1 Genotypes are unique virus strains within each type.

Genotypes 1, 2, and 3 are the most common in the United States. There are different genotypes that are prevalent in different areas of the world. Since there are numerous variants, for a vaccine to work, it would have to protect against all genotypes and subtypes.

Why a hep C vaccine is difficult

Hepatitis C is made up of different components, which make it difficult to develop a vaccine. The hepatitis C virus replicates and mutates in the body quickly, which makes it difficult to develop an effective vaccine.

The Mayo Clinic reports that a vaccine for hepatitis C has been in the works for 30 years, even prior to the hep C virus being given a name.1 Researchers are presently working in clinical trial studies to develop an effective vaccine. Some examples include:

  • Therapeutic Vaccine Trial: Dr. Stacey A. Rizza with the Mayo Clinic shared about an ongoing clinical trial, “This clinical study consists of patients who currently have hepatitis C. This trial’s purpose is to see if the vaccine can help the body build an immune response and treat the hepatitis C infection, while ensuring safety and able to protect against future infection.”1
  • Scripps Research is also working on a vaccine for hepatitis C. Scripps stated, “A new design for a vaccine against hepatitis C virus (HCV) has shown promise in early tests, according to a study from scientists at Scripps Research.”2

Scripps is working on new model targeting the E2 protein in the hepatitis C virus. Based on research, if this model is successful, it could work on all variants of the hepatitis C virus globally.2

Hep C treatment options

Treatment for hepatitis C with new antiviral drugs has proven effective, curing all genotypes of hep C in over 90% of patients. Are hepatitis C days numbered? With global education and awareness, effective treatment, and continued clinical trials, there is great promise of eliminating hepatitis C in the future. Testing and treatment for hepatitis C is greatly encouraged.

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