Vaccinations

Hepatitis B vaccine

Hepatitis B vaccination is routinely available as part of the NHS vaccination schedule. It's offered to all babies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age.

It's also offered to those thought to be at increased risk of hepatitis B or its complications.

The vaccine gives protection against the hepatitis B virus, which is a major cause of serious liver disease, including scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver cancer.

Who should be vaccinated against hepatitis B?

All infants should be vaccinated to protect against hepatitis B infection.

This is because the infection can persist for many years in children and can eventually lead to complications, such as scarring of the liver or liver cancer.

Although the risk of hepatitis B is low in the UK, children and adults in high-risk groups are offered the vaccine.

Babies born to mothers with hepatitis B have been offered hepatitis B vaccine from birth since the 1980s. During autumn 2017, this vaccine became available in the routine childhood vaccination schedule for all babies as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine. 

You can get infected with hepatitis B if you have contact with an infected person's blood or other body fluids. People at risk of hepatitis B or at risk of serious complications from it – and who should therefore consider vaccination – are:

  • people who inject drugs or have a partner who injects drugs
  • people who change their sexual partners frequently
  • men who have sex with men
  • babies born to infected mothers
  • close family or sexual partners of someone with hepatitis B
  • anyone who receives regular blood transfusions or blood products, and their carers 
  • people with any form of chronic liver disease
  • people with chronic kidney disease
  • people travelling to high-risk countries
  • male and female sex workers
  • people who work somewhere that places them at risk of contact with blood or body fluids, such as nurses, prison staff, doctors, dentists and laboratory staff
  • prisoners
  • families adopting or fostering children from high-risk countries

How to get vaccinated against hepatitis B

All babies in the UK born on or after August 1 2017 are given three doses of hepatitis B-containing vaccine as part of the NHS routine vaccination schedule. These doses are given at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age.

Babies at high risk of developing hepatitis B infection from infected mothers are given additional doses of hepatitis B vaccine at birth, four weeks and one year of age.

If you think you're at risk and need hepatitis B vaccine, ask your GP to vaccinate you, or visit any sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic.

Find your local genitourinary medicine clinic.

If your GP or nurse is unable to offer you the hepatitis B vaccine because of a temporary shortage in supply, you may need to wait longer for the vaccine. For more information, read What to do if you have to wait for a dose of hepatitis B vaccine (PDF, 159 Kb).

If your job places you at risk of hepatitis B infection, it is your employer's responsibility to arrange vaccination for you, rather than your GP. Contact your occupational health department.

What does hepatitis B immunisation involve?

Full protection involves having three injections of hepatitis B at the recommended intervals.

Babies born to mothers with hepatitis B infection will be given six doses of hepatitis B-containing vaccine to ensure long-lasting protection.

If you're a healthcare worker or you have kidney failure, you will be followed up to see if you have responded to the vaccine.

Anyone vaccinated by their own occupational health service can also request a blood test to see if they have responded to the vaccine.

Emergency hepatitis B vaccination

If you've been exposed to the hepatitis B virus and have not been vaccinated before, you should seek medical advice immediately, as you may benefit from the hepatitis B vaccine.

In some situations, you may also need to have an injection of antibodies, called specific hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG), along with the hepatitis B vaccine.

HBIG should ideally be given within 48 hours, but you can still have it up to a week after exposure.

Babies and hepatitis B vaccination

Pregnant women have a routine blood test for hepatitis B as part of their antenatal care.

Babies born to mothers found to be infected with hepatitis B need to be given a dose of the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of their birth, followed by further doses at 4, 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age, and a final dose at one year old.

Babies of mothers identified by the blood test as particularly infectious might also receive an injection of HBIG at birth on top of the hepatitis B vaccination to give them rapid protection against infection.

All babies born to mothers infected with hepatitis B should be tested at one year old to check if they have become infected with the virus.

Hepatitis B vaccination in pregnancy

Hepatitis B infection in pregnant women may result in severe disease for the mother and chronic infection for the baby, so it's advised that a pregnant woman should have the hepatitis B vaccine if she is in a high-risk category.

There is no evidence of any risk from vaccinating pregnant or breastfeeding women against hepatitis B. And since it's an inactivated (killed) vaccine, the risk to the unborn baby is likely to be negligible.

Hepatitis B vaccine on the NHS

Hepatitis B-containing vaccine is provided for all babies born in the UK on or after August 1 2017. This is given as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine.

Hospitals, GP surgeries and sexual health or GUM clinics usually provide the hepatitis B vaccination free of charge for anyone at risk of infection.

GPs are not obliged to provide the hepatitis B vaccine on the NHS if you're not thought to be at risk.

GPs may charge for the hepatitis B vaccine if you want it as a travel vaccine, or they may refer you to a travel clinic so you can get vaccinated privately. The current cost of the vaccine is around £50 a dose.

How safe is the hepatitis B vaccine?

The hepatitis B vaccine is very safe. Other than some redness and soreness at the site of the injection, side effects are rare. It's an inactivated (killed) vaccine, so it cannot cause the disease itself.

Read more about vaccine safety and side effects.

Page last reviewed: 30/11/2015

Next review due: 30/11/2017

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