Easy-to-read medicine information about hepatitis A vaccine – what it is, when it is given and possible side effects.
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What is hepatitis A vaccine?
Hepatitis A vaccine gives protection against infection from the hepatitis A virus. The vaccine works by causing your body to produce antibodies against the virus responsible for hepatitis A infection and in this way protects (or provides immunity) against the disease.
The hepatitis A virus is carried in the faeces (poo) of an infected person. You can come into contact with this when you drink contaminated water, eat food prepared by someone with hepatitis A virus who did not wash their hands after going to the toilet or have sexual contact with someone with the virus. Read more about hepatitis A.
Who should be vaccinated against hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is uncommon in New Zealand but the vaccine is funded for people at risk of severe infection, such as:
- transplant patients
- children with chronic liver disease
- people who live in close contact with someone infected with hepatitis A.
Immunisation is recommended but not funded for the following groups:
- adults with chronic liver disease including chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C
- men who have sex with men
- some occupational groups (ie, healthcare workers exposed to faeces/poo, employees of early childhood services, particularly where there are children too young to be toilet trained, sewage workers, those who work with non-human primates (eg, zoos, research laboratories)
- food handlers during community outbreaks
- military personnel who are likely to be deployed to high-risk areas.
Vaccination can be considered in others at higher risk, such as injecting drug users. Hepatitis A vaccine is not routinely recommended for all children in New Zealand, although it may be considered during community outbreaks.
If you are planning to travel to a developing country, you may be at risk of hepatitis A infection and should consider getting immunised.
- High-risk areas include Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East.
- Moderate-risk areas include the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe (including Russia) and parts of the Pacific.
The vaccine should be given at least 2 weeks before departure so that your body has time to respond to the vaccine.
Examples of hepatitis A vaccines
Havrix and Havrix Junior® are vaccines that protect against hepatitis A.
- Havrix is the higher strength vaccine, used in people 16 years and older.
- Havrix Junior is the lower strength vaccine used in children 1 to 15 years.
These vaccines are given intra-muscularly (injected into the muscle) of the upper arm muscle in adults and older children, and into the thigh muscle in infants.
To get the full benefit of the hepatitis A vaccine, two doses of the injection are needed.
- After one dose of hepatitis A vaccine, protection from hepatitis A lasts for at least 1 year.
- A second boostering dose, given 6 to 12 months after the first dose, gives longer term protection. It is predicted that protection could last for 20 years.
Possible side effects
Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.
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Where can I get vaccinated?
The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.
If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Ring them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.
You can find a clinic near you on the Healthpoint website. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.
Vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule are free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.
The following links have more information on hepatitis A vaccines:
- The New Zealand National Immunisation Schedule
- Tips following immunisation Ministry of Health, NZ
- Havrix Medsafe Consumer Information
- Twinrix Medsafe Consumer Information