A young woman reveals the plaster on her arm where she has had a vaccination.

FAQs about the Hep B vaccine – Day Lewis

FAQs about the Hep B vaccine

Getting vaccinated against diseases you may be likely to contract is a good way of protecting yourself. Vaccines can reduce the severity of your symptoms if you catch the illness, or even prevent you from getting it entirely. Below, we answer frequently asked questions relating to the Hep B vaccine.

What is Hep B?

Hep B is short for hepatitis B, an infection of the liver caused by a virus. For many people, hepatitis B lasts for around one to three months, but there is a risk that you could contract a long-term version of the disease called chronic hepatitis B, which lasts for over six months. Symptoms of both types of hepatitis B include:

  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and/or eyes)
  • Hives
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Pain in your upper abdomen
  • A high temperature

It’s important to note that many people have mild symptoms or none at all. However, in serious cases, hepatitis B can lead to serious liver disease such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The hepatitis B virus spreads through blood, semen and vaginal fluids. You can catch it by:

  • Having unprotected sex
  • Using or being injured by a used needle
  • Getting a piercing or tattoo with equipment that hasn’t been properly sterilised
  • Using someone else’s razor
  • Receiving a blood transfusion in countries that don’t check blood for hepatitis B. This does not include the UK.

It’s also possible for pregnant women who have hepatitis B to pass it onto their child throughout the pregnancy or during the birth.

The Hep B vaccine

In order to protect against the hepatitis B virus, all babies in the UK are given a hepatitis B vaccine. If a baby is born to a mother who has hepatitis B, the child is given additional vaccinations at birth, four weeks and one year to limit the risk of them developing the illness.

In adulthood, vaccination for hepatitis B is only required if you’re at high risk of catching the disease or the symptoms being more serious than what’s typical. For example, this could apply if:

  • You work in a prison or healthcare, where contact with used needles is more likely
  • You’re immunosuppressed, for example due to HIV or an organ transplant
  • You have kidney or liver disease
  • You’re travelling to a country where hepatitis B is particularly prevalent

How long does the Hep B vaccine last?

When babies receive the hepatitis B vaccine, it’s believed that they will be protected for at least 20 years – and possibly much longer. That’s why adults don’t typically have the vaccine unless they’re at a greater than usual risk of contracting hepatitis B. If you’ve had the vaccine as an adult and are wondering whether you need to have it again in order to travel to a high-risk area, it’s best to ask a pharmacist, travel clinic healthcare assistant or your GP for more specialised advice.

How many Hep B vaccinations are needed?

To receive full immunisation, you need to have three separate injections of the hepatitis B vaccine. These will be given at intervals rather than all at once, so it’s a good idea to get the process started well in advance of a holiday if you’re getting the vaccine for travel purposes. In some circumstances, you may also be asked to attend a follow-up appointment to check you have responded to the vaccine as expected. People at ongoing risk of exposure may also receive boosters at appropriate intervals.

How effective is the Hep B vaccine?

The hepatitis B vaccine is known to be highly effective. Roughly 90% of adults who have the vaccine are then protected against the disease.

However, there are some circumstances in which the vaccine might not be as effective. These include if you:

  • Are over 40
  • Are obese
  • Smoke or are dependent on alcohol
  • Have liver disease or are on kidney dialysis
  • Have a weakened immune system

If this applies to you, it’s important to make your healthcare professional aware of it. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have the vaccine – just that you may have to have additional doses in order to receive full protection.

What countries do I need a Hep B vaccine for?

Many countries around the world have a high prevalence of hepatitis B cases, particularly within indigenous populations. These include:

  • Africa: All nations except Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia
  • Europe: Albania, Bulgaria, Denmark and Greenland (indigenous populations), Malta, and Moldova
  • The Middle East: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
  • Central and South America: Any location around the Amazon basin, plus the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Peru
  • North America: Alaskan and Northern Canadian Native and indigenous populations
  • Southeast Asia: Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea (North and South), Laos, Macao, Mongolia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Vietnam
  • Pacific Islands: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Easter Island, Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia and Dependencies, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, the Trust Territories of Pacific Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the Wallis and Futuna Islands

If you’re planning to go abroad and aren’t sure whether you’ll need a travel vaccination, it’s best to check using the TravelHealthPro website .

Where can I get a Hep B vaccine?

If your occupation means you need to be vaccinated, your employers should arrange this for you. However, most people need to pay for a hepatitis B vaccination and arrange it themselves. This can be done with travel clinics and many local pharmacies. You may also receive advice on how to further limit your risk of contracting hepatitis B as well as information on other vaccinations that may be appropriate depending on your circumstances.

Alternatively, if you’re at risk due to your overall health, such as being immunosuppressed, you may be able to receive the hepatitis B vaccine free of charge at your GP surgery or a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic.

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Author: Rachna Chhatralia MRPharmS

Author: Rachna Chhatralia MRPharmS

Superintendent Pharmacist
GPHC number: 2045909

Rachna brings over 25 years of experience to her role as Superintendent. She qualified as a pharmacist at the London School of Pharmacy and has been working for Day Lewis since 2002. Her career is distinguished by a commitment to excellence in patient care, a deep understanding of pharmacy operations and a proactive approach to healthcare management.

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