Hepatitis B Vaccine

What You Need to Know

1. What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a serious disease that affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV can cause:

Acute (short-term) illness. This can lead to:

  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea and vomiting
  • tiredness
  • jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
  • pain in muscles, joints, and stomach

Acute illness is more common among adults.

Children who become infected usually do not have acute illness.

Chronic (long-term) infection. Some people go on to develop chronic HBV infection. This can be very serious, and often leads to:

  • liver damage (cirrhosis)
  • liver cancer
  • death

Chronic infection is more common among infants and children than among adults. People who are infected can spread HBV to others, even if they don't appear sick.

  • In 2005, about 51,000 people became infected with hepatitis B.
  • About 1.25 million people in the United States have chronic HBV infection.
  • Each year about 3,000 to 5,000 people die from cirrhosis or liver cancer caused by HBV.

Hepatitis B virus is spread through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. A person can become infected by:

  • contact with a mother's blood and body fluids at the time of birth;
  • contact with blood and body fluids through breaks in the skin such as bites, cuts, or sores;
  • contact with objects that could have blood or body fluids on them such as toothbrushes or razors;
  • having unprotected sex with an infected person;
  • sharing needles when injecting drugs;
  • being stuck with a used needle on the job.

2. Hepatitis B vaccine: Why get vaccinated?

Hepatitis B vaccine can prevent hepatitis B, and the serious consequences of HBV infection, including liver cancer and cirrhosis.

Routine hepatitis B vaccination of U.S. children began in 1991. Since then, the reported incidence of acute hepatitis B among children and adolescents has dropped by more than 95% - and by 75% in all age groups.

Hepatitis B vaccine is made from a part of the hepatitis B virus. It cannot cause HBV infection.

Hepatitis B vaccine is usually given as a series of 3 or 4 shots. This vaccine series gives long-term protection from HBV infection, possibly lifelong.

3. Who should get hepatitis B vaccine and when?

Children and Adolescents

  • All children should get their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth and should have completed the vaccine series by 6-18 months of age.
  • Children and adolescents through 18 years of age who did not get the vaccine when they were younger should also be vaccinated.


  • All unvaccinated adults at risk for HBV infection should be vaccinated. This includes:
    • sex partners of people infected with HBV,
    • men who have sex with men,
    • people who inject street drugs,
    • people with more than one sex partner,
    • people with chronic liver or kidney disease,
    • people with jobs that expose them to human blood,
    • household contacts of people infected with HBV,
    • residents and staff in institutions for the developmentally disabled,
    • kidney dialysis patients,
    • people who travel to countries where hepatitis B is common,
    • people with HIV infection.
  • Anyone else who wants to be protected from HBV infection may be vaccinated.

4. Who should NOT get hepatitis B vaccine?

  • Anyone with a life-threatening allergy to baker's yeast, or to any other component of the vaccine, should not get hepatitis B vaccine. Tell your provider if you have any severe allergies.
  • Anyone who has had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of hepatitis B vaccine should not get another dose.
  • Anyone who is moderately or severely ill when a dose of vaccine is scheduled should probably wait until they recover before getting the vaccine.

Your provider can give you more information about these precautions.

Pregnant women who need protection from HBV infection may be vaccinated.

5. Hepatitis B vaccine risks

Hepatitis B is a very safe vaccine. Most people do not have any problems with it.

The following mild problems have been reported:

  • Soreness where the shot was given (up to about 1 person in 4).
  • Temperature of 99.9°F or higher (up to about 1 person in 15).

Severe problems are extremely rare. Severe allergic reactions are believed to occur about once in 1.1 million doses.

A vaccine, like any medicine, could cause a serious reaction. But the risk of a vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. More than 100 million people have gotten hepatitis B vaccine in the United States.

6. What if there is a moderate or severe reaction?

What should I look for?

  • Any unusual condition, such as a high fever or behavior changes. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness.

What should I do?

  • Call a doctor, or get the person to a doctor right away.
  • Tell your doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given.
  • Ask your doctor, nurse, or health department to report the reaction by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form.

Or you can file this report through the VAERS web site at, or by calling 1-800-822-7967.

7. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

In the event that you or your child has a serious reaction to a vaccine, a federal program has been created to help pay for the care of those who have been harmed.

For details about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, call 1-800-338-2382 or visit their website at

8. How can I learn more?