Israeli Doctors Urge Parents to Allow Babies to Receive Vitamin K Shot

Health Ministry survey shows several hundred babies every year are not given the injection due to parental refusal.

The neonatal ward in Meir Hospital, Kfar Saba. This is an illustrative photo.
Alon Ron

Israeli health authorities are urging parents to allow babies to receive Vitamin K shots at birth, saying that an increasing number of refusals is putting babies at risk. Health officials say they view the problem “with grave concern.”

Haaretz recently reported on an incident of a 2-month-old baby being hospitalized in serious condition with massive bleeding to her brain. The girl had blood-clotting problems connected to her parents’ refusal to give her the postnatal Vitamin K injection.

The Health Ministry and leading pediatric groups said they were making the call because “over the past year, there have been several instances of babies being hospitalized in serious condition because of dangerous bleeding in the brain – the result of a lack of Vitamin K.

“The Health Ministry, Israel Pediatric Association, Israel Neonatal Society and the Israel Society of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology view with grave concern the refusal of parents to give the postnatal Vitamin K shot, a treatment that has proved effective in preventing infant bleeding that could endanger life and health,” the authorities said.

The doctors noted that giving babies Vitamin K orally requires repeated dosages and is less effective than giving the injection after birth, putting the baby at increased risk of “serious bleeding, including in the brain, which can occur up to the age of 3 months.”

According to ministry surveys, 95 percent of newborns in Israel receive the injection, with another 4.5 percent getting the vitamin orally. Some 0.5 percent – several hundred babies a year – don’t get the vitamin due to parental refusal.

Vitamin K is crucial to aid blood clotting, but newborns suffer from a lack of it because the level of the vitamin in umbilical blood and breast milk is very low. In Israel, as in many other countries, an injection of 1 milligram of Vitamin K has become part of the routine treatment of newborns when they are brought to the hospital nursery after birth.

Until routine postnatal injections of Vitamin K were introduced, up to 1.5 percent of babies suffered what is known as hemorrhagic disease of the newborn. Health Ministry officials say giving the vitamin to newborns has practically eliminated this form of bleeding, especially intracranial bleeding.