All About the Hepatitis B Vaccine: What You Should Know - Baby Chick
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All About the Hepatitis B Vaccine: What You Should Know

Find out what hepatitis B is, why the hep B vaccine is important, who should receive the vaccine, and whether there are any side effects.

Updated May 20, 2024

by Kirsten White

Pediatric Nurse, BSN, RN

Medically reviewed by Rhonda Sneeringer

Director of Pediatrics

The word “hepatitis” literally means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is one form of hepatitis. Thanks to modern medicine and vaccines, hepatitis B (hep B) is now preventable. Medical staff administers the hepatitis B vaccine to all healthy babies on the day they’re born. That’s the first dose of a three- or four-dose series of hepatitis B vaccinations. Completing the vaccination series is imperative to gain full protection against the hep B virus.

Depending on the baby’s overall health at birth, there can be a delay in getting the first shot of the hep B vaccine. But generally, it’s given in the first 24 hours of life, often in the first three hours. If some infants or children couldn’t receive their hep B vaccinations on time at birth, they can still get the whole hep B vaccine series. The doctor’s office will help determine the time frame to catch up on the vaccine according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recommendations. Children must complete the three- or four-dose series to have protection from hepatitis B.1,3,10

In this article, we’ll explain what you should know about the hep B vaccine, including the schedule for it and its potential side effects.

What Is Hepatitis B?

woman holding liver paper cut, hepatitis vaccination, liver cancer treatment, world hepatitis day

Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. It’s a serious but preventable disease. It can be a short-lived infection for four to six weeks called acute hepatitis B, or it can stay longer in the body and progress into a lifelong illness called chronic hepatitis B.1

Hepatitis B can be a sneaky infection. Sometimes, there are very few or no symptoms at all. Other times, the illness is severe and requires hospitalization. Some people’s bodies can kill the virus without any treatment, and others require medication or treatment. Either way, if hep B isn’t detected or treated, it can cause significant health issues. These include liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and even death.1 The only true way to know if you have hepatitis B is to have your blood tested. But here’s a list of symptoms that can indicate you have hepatitis B:1

  • Nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting for unknown reasons
  • Fever, fatigue, and possible joint pain (feeling tired all the time)
  • Pain in the abdominal area
  • Urine that’s dark yellow
  • Bowel movements that are pale or clay-colored
  • A yellow coloring in the skin or the eyes, called jaundice
Informative poster of common symptoms Hepatitis B illustration

Why Is the Hepatitis B Vaccine Important?

Hepatitis B vaccine at birth is important because it prevents infants from contracting hepatitis B from their mothers during pregnancy or the birth process. If a child under 6 years old gets infected with hepatitis B at a young age, it dramatically increases the chances that they’ll develop lifelong chronic hep B. Almost all infants (9 out of 10) who contract hep B infection will progress to the chronic version. Children under 6 are also at high risk (1 in 3) of getting lifelong disease from hepatitis B if they catch it. This is why it’s so critical to get your infant appropriately vaccinated with the hep B vaccine.1

The hep B vaccine also prevents children with active hep B infections from unintentionally passing the infection to others. Hep B is a tricky virus. It can live in a drop of blood outside the body for up to seven days.7

According to the CDC, in 2021, only 20 children from ages 0 to 19 were diagnosed with hep B in the entire United States. This means the Hep B vaccine works wonderfully to prevent hep B infections!2

Who Should Get the Hepatitis B Vaccine?

Doctor is holding hepatitis B vaccine vial and syringe

Many different types of people should get the hepatitis B vaccine, which is available for all age groups. Infants are the most critical group who need to receive the vaccine to prevent hepatitis B infections. All healthy newborn infants should get their first hep B vaccination on the day they’re born to begin their hep B series.3

If they haven’t already received it, children younger than 19 years old should receive the hep B vaccine series, along with all adults aged 19 through 59 years old. People 60 years and older with high-risk factors for hep B infection should also receive the vaccine. If they don’t have risk factors, they can receive the vaccine, but they should discuss it with their doctor first.3

Hep B Vaccine Schedule

If your baby is healthy and weighs at least 4 pounds 6 ounces at birth, they should receive the first hepatitis B vaccination within 12 hours of birth. Your doctor may use the three-dose or four-dose series of the hep B vaccination. Either option is acceptable.4 If your child didn’t receive the hepatitis B vaccine at birth due to medical reasons such as low birth weight, breathing difficulty, etc., there are different ways your provider can ensure they catch up on their vaccinations. The office can give you the details of when your child will need each shot according to their individual issues.5 (Please refer to the hepatitis B vaccine schedule below.)

Babies born to mothers with hepatitis B or mothers who haven’t been tested for hepatitis B must receive a specific injection called hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and the regular hep B vaccine within 12 hours of birth. These babies will also need continued testing to check for hep B infection.6 Here’s a vaccine schedule chart from the Hepatitis B Foundation to help guide you:

hep b vaccine schedule for infants
Image via

Note: According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, “the first dose should be given as soon as possible. Additional doses require minimum time intervals between doses in order for the vaccine to be effective.”4

How Long Does the Hepatitis B Vaccine Last?

According to the CDC, people who started their hepatitis B vaccination series before 6 months of age will have immunity for at least 30 years. The medical research community is conducting ongoing studies to research if this immunity lasts even longer. Some people who have received the entire series of hep B vaccinations don’t have a positive antibody blood test that proves they’re immune to hep B. Studies have shown that this group of people still has hep B immunity, even though the blood test can’t detect it.7

Potential Hep B Vaccine Side Effects

The hepatitis B vaccine has very few side effects. The most common side effect, as with any shot, is redness and soreness at the site of injection. Sometimes, a child can get a low fever (under 100 F) after the hep B vaccine. However, the vast majority of children tolerate the hep B vaccine without any side effects at all.8

The hepatitis B vaccine is a medical marvel. Since the first hep B vaccine was licensed in the United States in 1982, it’s saved countless lives. It gives us the capability to prevent hepatitis B infections in infants and children throughout the world. Even older children and adults can get the hep B vaccine to prevent infection.9 So, make sure to get it for your little one to keep them safe and healthy!

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Kirsten White Pediatric Nurse, BSN, RN
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Kirsten White earned her nursing degree from Villanova University. Since graduating, she has worked with various pediatric populations as a nurse at Johns Hopkins and is currently working in school… Read more

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