Vaccines against hepatitis B

Vaccinations for hepatitis B were discovered in the 1970s and are now very safe, sophisticated, and effective. Vaccinations are injected into an arm muscle in a 3-step process. After the first injection, the arm shot is repeated 1 month and 6 months later. This vaccine regimen works in most people, providing them with long-term protection and, for some, even life-long protection. Other injection schedules are available to meet various individual situations. A blood test can determine if the vaccine has "taken" in people who have experienced specific exposure to hepatitis B. This would include someone who is a sexual partner of a hepatitis B carrier or household members who have been living with a carrier. People using the vaccine for general risk reduction do not normally need to have the blood test after the shots are completed. You should discuss this with your doctor or health care professional at a clinic.

Who should get vaccinated?

While everybody may benefit from hepatitis B vaccines, there are certain situations in which vaccination is especially important. People at high risk include household and sexual contacts of an infected person, gay or bisexual men, IV drug users, newborns of infected mothers, those who handle blood or blood products, hemodialysis patients, and travelers to countries where there's a high incidence of hepatitis B in the community.

Newborn babies of mothers infected with hepatitis B

This may be the most important group that requires vaccination. The Public Health Agency of Canada now strongly recommends that all newborns of infected mothers receive immune globulin and a dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth with additional doses of hepatitis vaccines within 6 months of birth (the number of doses may vary depending on whether the baby is pre mature).

Who should not receive the vaccine?

People who have already been infected with hepatitis B, or those who have become immune to hepatitis B from a previous vaccination, do not need to be vaccinated.

Stephen Sacks, MD, FRCPC, with updates by the MediResource clinical team.