Hepatitis B vaccine
What is it for?
The vaccine protects you from a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus.
There are many different hepatitis viruses, but hepatitis viruses A, B, and C are the most common cause of infection. Hepatitis B can cause liver damage and is the most common cause of liver cancer worldwide.
A different vaccine is needed to protect you against hepatitis A, which is a less serious but still very infectious disease that can cause liver damage. There are no vaccines available for hepatitis C, or for the less infectious forms of hepatitis.
Hepatitis B is found in blood and body fluids, so the infection can be spread:
- if you have sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis B
- from mother to baby during childbirth
- by direct contact with someone who has hepatitis B
- if you share a toothbrush, a razor, or drug injecting equipment with someone who has hepatitis B.
Most people who have hepatitis B will recover from the initial infection, but they can still carry the virus in their body for a long time after their symptoms have gone. In some people, the infection can recur (chronic infection), which can lead to liver failure and liver cancer. Chronic infection is common in young babies who are infected with hepatitis B at birth. They can carry the virus throughout their life (chronic disease), with a high risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. Anyone carrying the hepatitis B virus can pass the infection on to other people.
Who should be vaccinated?
The hepatitis B vaccine is given to all babies as soon as possible after birth. The vaccine is usually given within their first 7 days (within 24 hours after birth is best) to protect the baby from hepatitis B infection, which may have been passed from mother to baby during childbirth.
Three more doses of hepatitis B are also given in a combination vaccine at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months of age.
Children aged 2 months, 4 months and 6 months old
The combination vaccine (Infanrix Hexa) is given to children aged 2 months, 4 months and 6 months of age. It protects against hepatitis B and five other diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough (pertussis), and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).
Children and teenagers younger than 20 years
The hepatitis B vaccine can be given to children and teenagers younger than 20 years if they have not had hepatitis B or they have not previously been vaccinated. Currently, children aged 12 to 13 years are offered hepatitis B vaccine free in school-based immunisation programs.
The hepatitis B vaccine is also recommended for adults who are at higher risk of infection due to work place or lifestyle factors including:
- people sharing a house with a person who has hepatitis B
- people who are HIV positive
- injecting drug users
- healthcare workers, medical and nursing students
- emergency workers such as police and ambulance workers.
The hepatitis B vaccine for the groups listed above is not part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). Anyone wanting to be vaccinated can do so at their own cost.
Find out more about groups with special vaccination requirements.
The hepatitis B vaccine is usually only given to pregnant women who are at risk of infection due to workplace (e.g. healthcare workers) or life style factors (e.g. injecting drug use) and have not been vaccinated or have not had hepatitis B.
Read more about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.
Women who are breastfeeding
There is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with the hepatitis B vaccine while you are breastfeeding.
Women who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine except the yellow fever vaccine.
Common side effects of the hepatitis B vaccine (that may affect 1 to 10 in every 100 people) include:
- redness, swelling and pain at the injection site
- fever (i.e. a temperature higher than 38.5°C)
- a lump at the injection site; this generally disappears after a few weeks and does not need treatment.
Read more about vaccine side effects and safety.
Who can I ask about side effects?
If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).
- Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, January 2013.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. National Immunisation Program. Hepatitis B. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/immunise-hepb
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. 4.5 Hepatitis B. In: The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edn. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-5
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. 3.3 Groups with special vaccine requirements. In: The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edn. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-5