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Hepatitis B vaccine overview

Hepatitis B vaccination is routinely available as part of the NHS vaccination schedule.

It's also offered to people thought to be at increased risk of getting 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 babies should be vaccinated to protect them 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.

The 6-in-1 vaccine offered to all babies when they are 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age includes a vaccine against hepatitis B.

Babies at risk of developing hepatitis B infection from infected mothers are given extra doses of the hepatitis B vaccine at birth, 4 weeks and 1 year of age.

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

People who are at risk of getting hepatitis B or developing serious complications from it should consider being vaccinated. These groups include:

  • 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
  • people who have regular blood transfusions or blood products, and their carers
  • people with any form of chronic liver disease or chronic kidney disease
  • people travelling to high-risk countries
  • male and female sex workers
  • people whose work puts 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 1 August 2017 are given 3 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 the hepatitis B vaccine at birth, 4 weeks and 1 year of age.

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

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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, 159kb).

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

What hepatitis B immunisation involves

Full protection involves having 3 injections of the hepatitis B vaccine at the recommended intervals.

Babies born to mothers with hepatitis B infection will be given 6 doses of hepatitis B-containing vaccine to ensure long-lasting protection.

If you're a healthcare worker or you have kidney failure, you'll have a follow-up appointment to see if you've responded to the vaccine.

If you've been vaccinated by your employer's occupational health service you can request a blood test to see if you've 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 get immediate medical advice, as you may benefit from having 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 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, plus a final dose when they're 1 year old.

Babies of mothers identified by the blood test as particularly infectious might also be given 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 1 year of age to check if they've 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. This is why the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for pregnant women who are in a high-risk category.

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

Hepatitis B vaccine on the NHS

A hepatitis B-containing vaccine is provided for all babies born in the UK on or after 1 August 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 for a private vaccination. The current cost of the vaccine is around £50 a dose.

Side effects of the hepatitis B vaccine

The hepatitis B vaccine is very safe.

Other than some redness and soreness where the injection was given, side effects are rare.

It's an inactivated (dead) vaccine, so it cannot cause the infection itself.

Effectiveness of the hepatitis B vaccine

The hepatitis B vaccine is very effective. About 9 in every 10 adults who have it develop protection against hepatitis B.

The vaccine can work less well in people who:

  • are over 40
  • are obese
  • smoke
  • are dependent on alcohol, particularly people with advanced liver disease

If you have a weakened immune system or you're on kidney dialysis, the hepatitis B vaccine may not work as well as usual. You may need more frequent doses.

Page last reviewed: 4 September 2018
Next review due: 4 September 2021