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All about the Hepatitis B Vaccine: Purpose, Dosage & Side Effects

Dr. BhavikaNov 24, 2022

Hepatitis B can stay asymptomatic for years. This condition can also progress causing fatal liver damage. A lot of people with this infection don’t even know that they have it. It can be transmitted through virtually any body fluid. This means you can get it through sexual contact, sharing needles, transfusions, etc. Luckily, Hepatitis B can be prevented by the Hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine is an attempt to eliminate this exceedingly common viral infection over the next decade. The Hepatitis B vaccine is a safe and convenient method to protect those who are at high risk of contracting the infection.

Hepatitis B Vaccine

Contents

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What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a viral infection caused by the Hepatitis B virus that affects the liver. It can result in acute and chronic liver disease, leading to liver cirrhosis and even cancer. It is transmitted by exposure to infected blood & other bodily fluids. An estimated 3.8% of the global population (almost 300 million people) have chronic Hepatitis B as of 2019.

An infected individual may be completely free of symptoms. The regular symptoms of an acute viral hepatitis infection include:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

  • Dark coloured urine

  • Generalised body pain & discomfort

  • Mild fever

  • Jaundice

This aspect of the disease is usually self-limiting, needing only supportive treatment; meaning getting plenty of rest and fluids. If there is a lot of discomfort, doctors may prescribe medications.

If the infection lasts for more than 6 months, it is termed chronic hepatitis B. Most people with chronic hepatitis B do not exhibit any symptoms, but there is a significantly higher risk of progression of the disease to liver cirrhosis. This is a condition where the liver is damaged, and healthy tissue is replaced by scar tissue leading to liver failure.

Apart from end-stage liver disease, chronic Hepatitis B can also result in liver cancer. These individuals require targeted antiviral treatment, which is aimed at preventing this progress.

Considering the severity and prevalence of the disease, it is no surprise that medical professionals take all the necessary steps to educate people about ways to avoid getting infected.

How to prevent Hepatitis B infections

Now that we know the risks associated with Hepatitis B, let’s get to the good news. The transmission of this disease is almost entirely preventable by vaccination.

The Hepatitis B vaccine, first available in 1982, is 98 to 100% successful in preventing an infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a goal to eliminate viral Hepatitis by the year 2030 and has provided guidelines that have been adopted in several countries. Vaccination is one of the most important and efficient ways to decrease the burden of this disease. Taking the vaccine is especially important for people who are at high risk of developing the infection.

How does the Hepatitis B vaccine work?

The Hepatitis B vaccine works by exposing the body’s immune system to the viral components without causing the disease. This allows the body to recognise, target, and eliminate the actual virus if it comes in contact with it. Only one part of the virus is isolated and cultivated to prepare the vaccine.

One of the ways by which immunity is created is by the production of antibodies. Antibodies are chemical components that are produced by the immune system which act against the disease and eliminate it. Checking the levels of these antibodies is a good way to know the immune status after taking the vaccine. This helps in understanding if the vaccine was effective or not.

Who should take the Hepatitis B vaccine?

As such, it is recommended that everyone be vaccinated against Hepatitis B. The following groups are especially recommended to get vaccinated at the earliest as they are at higher risk of exposure to infection.

  • People whose partners have hepatitis B

  • Healthcare workers 

  • Public safety and hygiene workers

  • People who have sexual contact with multiple people

  • People seeking evaluation or treatment for STIs

  • Patients who receive dialysis 

  • People who use/ have recently used injectable drugs

  • People living with HIV/ Hepatitis C/Chronic Liver disease

  • Diabetic patients at the discretion of their doctors

  • Individuals who are in prison/ jail

This vaccine is safe for use in individuals with compromised immune systems. It is also safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

WHO recommends vaccination for all age groups. It is recommended for:

  • All newborns within 24 hours of life

  • All children & adolescents below the age of 19 with no prior history of hepatitis vaccination

  • All adults up to the age of 60

  • All adults over the age of 60 with risk factors for hepatitis B infection (but it can also be given to those in this age group without established risk factors)

Schedule of the Hepatitis B vaccine

The Indian Academy of Paediatrics recommends that in newborns, the first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine should be administered immediately after birth or within 24 hours. The second and third doses are at 6 and 14 weeks respectively. In case the birth dose is missed, three doses of the vaccine at 6, 10, and 14 weeks are recommended.

The Hepatitis B vaccine affords lifetime protection once administered. The routine assessment of antibodies in the blood after vaccination is not recommended. However, if you are a member of a high-risk group, your doctor may recommend that you measure the antibody levels in your blood to make sure you remain protected by the vaccine.

What are the side effects of the Hepatitis B vaccine?

The Hepatitis B vaccine is safe, with minimal side effects. The commonest side effect is pain and mild swelling at the vaccination site, which resolves by itself. As with any medication or vaccine, there is a very minimal chance of a serious allergic reaction and other serious injuries.

Inform your doctor or healthcare provider if you have pre-existing life-threatening allergies, or have a history of an allergic reaction to a previous dose of the hepatitis B vaccine or other vaccines. Avoid taking the vaccine if you are undergoing treatment for any serious condition; the vaccine can be taken safely once your treatment is complete.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to Hepatitis B.

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Can Hepatitis B be prevented?

Hepatitis B is a condition that can be easily prevented by timely vaccination, safe sex practices, careful screening of blood products, and following universal precautions.

Is the Hepatitis B vaccine safe?

The Hepatitis B vaccine is a safe and effective method to protect yourself from hepatitis infections. It is especially beneficial to people who are at high risk of contracting the infection.

How can I know about the full course of the vaccines?

Talk to your doctor for more information regarding the vaccine and the disease, and make sure to get the full course of the vaccines.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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