Hepatitis B vaccine
There is a vaccine for Hepatitis B which can prevent you from becoming infected with the virus. The Hepatitis B vaccine is free if you are considered to be at high risk of contracting Hepatitis B. If you are not considered to be at high risk but would like to be vaccinated for Hepatitis B you will need to pay for it. You can ask for the vaccine at your G.P’s office or local sexual health (G.U.M) clinic.
If you require a Hepatitis B vaccine due to the nature of your job, your occupational health provider may be responsible for paying for your vaccination.
What does the vaccine involve?
For full protection you will need 3 injections of the Hepatitis B vaccine over a period of between 4 – 6 months. A blood test may in some cases be taken 1 month after the 3rdinjection to check that the vaccination has worked. Vaccinations do not work for everybody. For some people (10-15%) the vaccination will fail. Factors including age, weight and being a smoker can affect successful vaccination. If the vaccination works you should then be immune to the virus for at least 5 years. A booster injection is usually given 5 years after the initial injections which should protect you for life.
Anyone who has been exposed to the Hepatitis B virus will also be given the vaccine. It will be given along with injections of Hepatitis B immunoglobulin (anti-bodies that help to fight the virus). Immunoglobulin should ideally be given within 48 hours, but will be considered up to a week after exposure to risk (this is referred to as PEP or post exposure prophylaxis). In these cases the course of the vaccine will be given at much shorter intervals in order to give the best chance of preventing infection even after the virus has entered the body.
Can children be vaccinated?
Yes. Children born to mothers with Hepatitis B should receive the vaccine in the first 24 hours after birth to give the best chance of protection against infection. They will usually be given the Accelerated Vaccination schedule which consists of an initial dose at birth, additional doses at one and two months of age and a fourth dose at 12 months of age. Children born to mothers who have previously injected drugs will receive the vaccine regardless of mothers HBV status. Depending on the HBV status of the mother, children may also receive injections of Hepatitis B immunoglobulin.
This is very important because when children are infected with Hepatitis B they will usually go on to develop a chronic infection which cannot be cured and around 25% of them will go on to develop serious liver damage.
Accelerated vaccination will usually be given to babies born to mothers who have Hepatitis B. Details of this schedule are given above.
Those who are deemed to be at immediate risk of coming into contact with the virus are also given an accelerated schedule of the vaccine. Examples include injecting drug users, people entering prison custody and those travelling to countries with a high prevalence of the virus.
For these groups an initial dose will be given followed by doses 7 days later and 21 days later - with a 4th dose recommended 12 months after the initial dose.
Who should be vaccinated for Hepatitis B?
It is advised (and in some cases is compulsory) in the Green Book for the following groups to be vaccinated against Hepatitis B:
The Hepatitis B vaccine cannot under any circumstances cause you to become infected with the hepatitis B virus. It is also important to remember that vaccinations do not work for everybody. For some people (10-15%) the vaccination will fail. Factors including age, weight and being a smoker can affect successful vaccination. Some recent research also suggests that sleeping less than 6 hours a night also lowers the effectiveness of the Hepatitis B vaccine. Even if you have been successfully vaccinated it is still sensible to use condoms during sex and to avoid blood to blood contact with those who may have been at risk.