Viral Hepatitis and Hepatitis B Vaccine
A vaccine is not a treatment for hepatitis infection, but it may help keep someone from becoming infected in the first place. The hepatitis B vaccine is produced by inserting a gene for the virus into yeast. The yeast is grown, harvested, and purified. The vaccine is given as an injection into the muscle.
The Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants. Adults (aged 18 years or older) should also get vaccinated if they are at high risk for hepatitis B. (See How to Use Hepatitis B Vaccine, below, for more information.)
A combined vaccine that protects against both hepatitis A and B is also available.
By preparing the immune system ahead of time, the vaccine may prevent infection in someone who is exposed to the virus.
Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?
Newborns routinely receive the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine before leaving the hospital. If the mother is infected with the virus, the dose is given within 12 hours of birth. Two more injections are given to all infants at:
- 1-2 months
- 6-18 months
Children who have not been immunized as babies can also get the vaccine. For children aged 11-15 years, there is a 2-dose series available, called Recombivax HB.
It is recommended that adults (aged 18 years or older) get vaccinated if they are at high risk for hepatitis B. High risk includes:
- Having multiple sex partners
- Getting treatment or counseling for a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Being a man who has sex with other men
- Being an IV drug user or having a history of injecting drugs
- Having chronic kidney disease, liver disease, or HIV
- Undergoing dialysis
- Having a job where you might be exposed to HBV-infected blood or body fluids (eg, medical facility, correctional facility)
- Residents and people working at institutions for the developmentally disabled
- Living with or working with people who have chronic HBV infection
- Traveling to areas where there is a high rate of HBV infection
Medical practitioner who is trained to give injections (MD, nurse, physician's assistant, etc.).
What Are the Risks Associated With the Hepatitis B Vaccine?
All vaccines are capable of causing serious problems, such as a severe allergic reaction.
Most people who get the hepatitis B vaccine do not have problems. Some may have mild problems, including soreness where the shot was given and fever.
Acetaminophen (eg, Tylenol) is sometimes given to reduce pain and fever that may occur after getting a vaccine. In infants, the medicine may weaken the vaccine's effectiveness. Discuss the risks and benefits of taking acetaminophen with the doctor.
Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?
You should not get the vaccine if you:
- Had a life-threatening allergic reaction to baker's yeast or to a previous dose of hepatitis B vaccine
- Are moderately or severely ill—Wait until you recover to get the vaccine.