Hepatitis B (Hep B) is a contagious liver disease that comes from infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). A person can have what's called an acute infection, which could last a few weeks. Or, if the virus stays in the body, it can become a serious chronic infection that can lead to liver damage, liver cancer, and death. But Hep B can be prevented. The best way to help protect yourself and your family is to get the Hep B vaccine.80
Many people don't realize how common Hep B is in the United States. An estimated 1 million Americans have chronic Hep B infection, and many of these people don't even know they are infected. This disease has serious consequences, causing many Americans to die of Hep B-related liver disease every year.91
Hep B spreads when the blood, semen or other bodily fluid of an infected person enters the body of someone who isn't infected. This could happen through sex and sharing needles for drug use, but also through innocent activities like sharing toothbrushes or razors.80
The Hep B vaccine is considered the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. Hep B vaccination is recommended for a wide range of people and a variety of risk groups, usually as 3 shots over 6 months.80Back to top
The CDC recommends that infants get their first Hep B vaccine at birth in the hospital, and then get the other 2 injections in the series by 6-18 months of age.80 If the child did not complete the series, then catch-up vaccination is recommended.
Some parents may wonder: if HBV is spread through activities like sex and sharing needles, then why do infants need to be vaccinated?80 There are a number of reasons for this:91
Getting a tattoo or body piercing, or sharing a razor or a toothbrush can increase an adolescent's risk for Hep B.91 So can certain risky behaviors such as having unprotected sex or drug use.
If your adolescent hasn't started or completed the series of Hep B shots, it's important to do so as soon as possible. It's recommended that an older child who doesn't get all 3 doses of the Hep B vaccine as an infant complete the series with catch-up vaccination as soon as possible. In fact, most states require Hep B vaccination to get into school.91
Three shots are usually given over a 6-month period. There is also a 2-shot series that can be given to 11- to 15-year-olds.49
Adults at increased risk of acquiring HBV infection should make sure they are vaccinated against Hep B. This includes people who:80
If you don't fall into any of these categories but want to make sure you help protect yourself from HBV infection, you can also get vaccinated.91 If you're not sure whether you are at higher risk for HBV infection, check with your health care professional.
If someone 65 years of age and older never got vaccinated against Hep B, it's not too late, especially if the person falls into one of the increased risk categories shown above. Talk to your health care professional to see if you or a loved one should be vaccinated against Hep B.
Understanding the potential risks that come with vaccines is a crucial step in making immunization decisions. Here's some helpful information about the risks and side effects for the Hep B vaccine.
The Hep B vaccine is safe for infants, children, adolescents, and adults.91 More than 100 million people have received the Hep B vaccine in the United States, and most people have no problems with it.80
Of the children who happen to experience side effects, most of them have a very minor reaction, such as a sore spot where the vaccine was injected, or a slight fever. Adults are a little more likely to have these same mild reactions.91
As far as serious reactions go, a vaccine, like any medicine, could cause a serious reaction. But serious reactions from the Hep B vaccine are extremely rare: about 1 in 1.1 million people have a severe allergic reaction.34
The Hep B vaccine does not contain any live virus, so it is safe to receive during pregnancy and breastfeeding.31 According to the CDC, pregnant women who are considered at risk for Hep B should get vaccinated. This includes women who have had multiple sex partners in the past 6 months, have been evaluated or treated for an STD (sexually transmitted disease), currently use injection drugs or have in the past, and women whose partners have tested positive for Hep B.102
Check with your health care professional to see if you should get vaccinated against Hep B.102 New Hep B infection in a pregnant woman could result in serious disease for the mother and lifelong chronic infection for her newborn.31
The Hep B vaccine isn't recommended for the following people:
The Hep B vaccine is usually given as 3 shots over a 6-month period.80 The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that all children get their first dose of Hep B vaccine when they are newborns, and then finish the series by 6-18 months of age.80 Other age groups may need to get it, depending on certain risk factors. If you're not sure you need the Hep B vaccine series, check with your health care professional.
You can get the Hep B vaccine at your health care provider's office or a local health clinic. If you don't have health insurance, some public health clinics may be able to offer you free or low-cost vaccines.
If you or your child never received all 3 shots in the Hep B immunization series, talk to your health care professional as soon as possible to pick up where you left off. You won't need to start from the beginning. If you do happen to get an extra dose of Hep B vaccine, don't worry. An extra dose is not harmful.80
Sometimes a booster dose of Hep B vaccine is required to increase or extend the effectiveness of the vaccine. Only certain people need booster doses of Hep B. These include hemodialysis patients and people with weakened immune systems. Keep in mind that booster doses are not recommended for people who have been fully vaccinated and have healthy immune systems.80
A lot of effort goes into creating vaccines, and just as much effort goes into making sure they are safe. For a parent, it may be reassuring to know that vaccines are constantly studied and monitored to make sure they are safe. Safety monitoring continues long after vaccines are licensed.26
The first Hep B vaccine became commercially available in the United States in 1982.91 In 1991, a national vaccination strategy to eliminate HBV infection was put in place. Since then, new HBV infections have gone down by 82%.31
The Hep B vaccine is a series of 3 shots. After you get the shots, your body makes antibody to help protect you from the Hep B virus. Once this antibody has been produced, your body can use it to fight off any Hep B virus you might be exposed to in the future.80
The Hep B vaccine is made using only a small inactive part of the Hep B virus. This substance, called Hep B surface antigen, can't cause Hep B infection; it stimulates the body's immune system to produce antibody that helps protect against the disease.69
Like many vaccines, Hep B vaccine contains very small, or trace amounts of aluminum. It's added to help your body have a better immune response to the vaccine.33
It's only natural for parents to worry about their infant getting exposed to aluminum. But infants are constantly exposed to aluminum through natural substances such as breast milk, water, air, and food. It's also worth noting that the amount of aluminum used in vaccines is less than 1% of the aluminum present in food and is eliminated quickly from a baby's body.33
If you have any concerns about what additives are in any kind of vaccine, be sure to talk to a health care professional.