Hepatitis B can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine that has been available since 1982. In Australia, the hepatitis B vaccination program commenced in 1988, targeting groups at particularly high risk of infection. It is now recommended that all babies and adolescents be vaccinated against hepatitis B. The program continues and ensures that babies and adolescents have access to free hepatitis B vaccine.
The Australian Immunisation Handbook (NHMRC 2013) recommends that the following groups are vaccinated against hepatitis B:
- babies and young children
- household contacts (other than sexual partners) of people with acute and chronic hepatitis B
- sexual contacts of people with acute and chronic hepatitis B
- dialysis patients and people with impaired renal function in whom dialysis is anticipated
- Individuals with HIV and other adults with weakened immune systems
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people*
- people who have migrated from countries where hepatitis B is endemic*
- people who inject drugs *
- sex industry workers*
- men who have sex with men*
- recipients of certain blood products *
- individuals with chronic liver disease and/or hepatitis C *
- residents and staff of facilities for persons with intellectual disabilities *
- individuals adopting children from overseas
- liver transplant recipients *
- inmates and staff from long-term correctional facilities *
- healthcare workers, dentists and all people directly involved in patient care and/or the handling of human tissue, blood or body fluids
others at risk including:
- police, members of the armed services and emergency services staff
- long-term travellers to regions with high endemicity
- staff of child day-care centres
- people playing contact sport.
- embalmers, tattooists and body-piercers
* Individuals should consider the combined hepatitis A/hepatitis B vaccine.
Children born after the 1st of May 2000 receive hepatitis B vaccine shortly after birth while they are in hospital and further doses at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.
Children in Year 7 or adolescents aged between 11 and 15 years receive a two-dose course of adult hepatitis B vaccine given 4 to 6 months apart.
In order to obtain maximum protection against hepatitis B, adults should receive three doses of the vaccine at zero, 1 and 6 months intervals.
A post-vaccination blood test, to assess if the vaccine course has been effective in producing protection against hepatitis B infection, is recommended four weeks after the third dose of the hepatitis B vaccine for people in the following categories: some would say all adults!
- people at significant occupational risk (e.g. healthcare workers whose work involves frequent exposure to blood and body fluids)
- people at risk of severe or complicated disease (e.g. people with pre-existing liver disease not related to hepatitis B and adults with weakened immune systems)
- people in whom a poor response to the hepatitis B vaccination is expected.
Side effects of the hepatitis B vaccine are not common, however, a small number of people report pain at the injection site and/or a mild fever after the injections
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) 2015. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 2015 10th Edition (with updates). www.immunise.health.gov.au