Hepatitis B vaccine

Hepatitis B is a serious viral illness that can cause inflammation of the liver, chronic liver failure and liver cancer. Fortunately, there is a vaccine available that can prevent people being infected with the hepatitis B virus.

Vaccination recommendations

The National Immunisation Program Schedule recommends hepatitis B vaccination for all children at birth, followed by 3 doses at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. Catch-up vaccination at 10 to 13 years is recommended for children who have missed being vaccinated.

For adults and children who have not been vaccinated as part of the schedule, a simple course of 3 injections, the second and third given one and 6 months after the first, will give long-lasting protection. The vaccine is readily available and relatively inexpensive.

Vaccination is recommended for adults who are at increased risk of hepatitis B infection and those at increased risk of severe disease. Adults at increased risk include:

  • people living with, or in prolonged close contact with, a person with hepatitis B;
  • sexual contacts of those with hepatitis B;
  • migrants from areas where there are high rates of hepatitis B infection (including East and Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific Islands);
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
  • people with kidney failure who need dialysis;
  • people with HIV infection or other problems with their immune system;
  • people with liver disease and/or hepatitis C;
  • people who inject drugs;
  • residents and staff of facilities for people with developmental disabilities;
  • inmates and staff of correctional facilities;
  • people working in certain occupations, such as healthcare and emergency services workers; and
  • travellers to countries where there are high rates of hepatitis B infection.

If you are unsure about whether you have been vaccinated or previously exposed to hepatitis B, ask your doctor about having a blood test to check for antibodies to the hepatitis virus.

Risks and side effects

The most common side effects associated with hepatitis B vaccination include soreness around the injection area and fever. The birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine is very well tolerated and is not associated with an increased risk of fever. Severe allergic reactions in adults have been very rarely reported.

Last Reviewed: 19 August 2014
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References

1. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th Edition 2013. 4.5 Hepatitis B (updated 17 Jan 2014). http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-5 (accessed Jul 2014).
2. Australian Government Department of Health. National Immunisation Program Schedule (from July 2013). http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/nips-ctn (accessed Jul 2014).
3. Immunise Australia Program. Hepatitis B (updated 10 Feb 2014). http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/immunise-hepb (accessed Jul 2014).
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