Easy-to-read medicine information about hepatitis B vaccine – what it is, when it is given and possible side effects.
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What is hepatitis B vaccine?
Hepatitis B vaccine gives protection against infection from the hepatitis B virus. The vaccine works by causing the body to produce antibodies against the virus responsible for hepatitis B infection and in this way protects (or provides immunity) against the disease.
Hepatitis B is a virus that is easily spread through contact with the blood or bodily fluids (such as saliva and semen) of an infected person. For example, it can be passed on through unprotected sex, by sharing injection gear, through a needle stick injury or from mother to child during childbirth. Hepatitis B infection can cause serious problems including liver failure, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Preventing infection can prevent these problems. Read more about hepatitis B.
Who should be immunised against hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B immunisation is recommended and funded for the following groups:
- all children up to their 18th birthday
- babies born to mothers with hepatitis B infection (read more about hepatitis B and pregnancy)
- people who live in close contact with someone infected with hepatitis B
- anyone undergoing renal dialysis
- people who have hepatitis C infection, or who are HIV positive, or who have had a needle stick injury.
- anyone who has received immunosuppression therapy of at least 28 days or has had solid organ or bone marrow transplant.
Hepatitis B immunisation is also recommended, but not funded, for:
- workers who are likely to come into contact with blood products, or who are at increased risk of needlestick injuries, assault, etc.
- people who change sex partners frequently such as sex workers
- people who regularly receive blood transfusions such as people with haemophilia
- prison inmates
- current or recent injecting drug users
- migrants and travellers from or to areas with intermediate or high rates of hepatitis B such as the Asia and Pacific region.
Vaccines effective against hepatitis B
There are a few different vaccines that are effective against hepatitis B, but only the following two are funded.
This is a combination vaccine that provides protection against hepatitis B and other infections including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis and disease caused by Haemophilis influenza type B. It is usually given to babies as part of the primary immunisation at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months of age. This vaccine protects almost all children (95%) from hepatitis B infection. No further doses are required. Protection is expected to be lifelong.
This vaccine protects against hepatitis B only. It does not protect against other infections including other hepatitis infections such as hepatitis A and hepatitis C. It is used in special groups eligible for hepatitis B vaccine (as above), in older children or adults who have not had their complete hepatitis B immunization or it is given at birth to infants born to mothers who are hepatitis B positive.
How are these vaccines given?
These vaccines are given intramuscularly (injected into the muscle) of your upper arm or thigh.
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 provide further information on hepatitis B vaccines:
- The New Zealand National Immunisation Schedule
- Tips following immunisation Ministry of Health, NZ
- HBVaxPRO Medsafe Consumer Information