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Hepatitis B Vaccine

By William D. Surkis, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine; Director, Internal Medicine Residency Program, Jefferson Medical College; Lankenau Medical Center
Jerome Santoro, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine; Chief, Department of Medicine, Jefferson Medical College; Lankenau Medical Center

For more information, see the Hepatitis B vaccine information statement.

The hepatitis B vaccine helps protect against hepatitis B and its complications (chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer). Generally, hepatitis B is more serious than hepatitis A and is occasionally fatal. Symptoms can be mild or severe. They include decreased appetite, nausea, and fatigue. In 5 to 10% of people, hepatitis B becomes chronic and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.


The hepatitis B vaccine is typically given in a series of three injections into a muscle. However, if people who have been vaccinated are exposed to the virus, a doctor measures their antibody levels against hepatitis B. If the antibody levels are low, they may need another injection of hepatitis B vaccine.

All children are typically given three doses: at birth, at age 1 to 2 months, and at 6 to 18 months.

Vaccination is also recommended for any adult who wishes protection from hepatitis B and all unvaccinated adults who are at increased risk of getting hepatitis B, such as the following:

  • Health care workers

  • Travelers to areas where the disease is common

  • People with a chronic liver disorder

  • People with kidney failure, including those who need dialysis

  • People who inject illegal drugs

  • People who have several sex partners

  • Men who have sex with men

  • Sex partners and household contacts of people known to be carriers of hepatitis B

  • People with HIV infection

  • People who are under 60 and have diabetes

Side Effects

Occasionally, the injection site becomes sore, and a mild fever develops. People with a history of severe allergic reaction to baker’s yeast, which is used in the production of the hepatitis B vaccine, should not be given the vaccine.