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What are the benefits of the hepatitis B vaccine?
The hepatitis B vaccine (HepB) protects your child against the hepatitis B virus, which can lead to liver damage and even death.
Hepatitis B is generally considered an adult disease because it's transmitted through unsafe sex and shared needles. But many people who get it – including children – don't engage in these high-risk behaviors. They're either infected at birth or they contract the disease during childhood from close contact with another person who is infected.
Hepatitis B is highly infectious. An estimated 850,000 to 2.2 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis B, and most of them acquired it in childhood.
Many never feel sick and don't know they have the disease, but those who become infected as children are more likely to have long-term health problems, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. In 2014, nearly 1,900 Americans died from illnesses related to hepatitis B.
The hepatitis B vaccine was introduced in 1981 and became part of the recommended immunization schedule in the United States in 1991. Since then, the incidence of acute hepatitis B has dropped by more than 95 percent in children and adolescents, and by about 82 percent overall.
The number of new infections annually has declined from an average of 260,000 in the 1980s to an estimated 19,200 in 2014. The biggest decline was among children and adolescents.
What's the recommended schedule?
Recommended number of doses
- At birth
- Between 1 and 2 months
- Between 6 and 18 months
Women in the United States are screened for hepatitis B during pregnancy. If you test positive, your baby should get an injection of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG), as well as the hepatitis B vaccine, within 12 hours of birth to provide short-term protection.
To track your child's immunizations, use BabyCenter's Immunization Scheduler.
Who should not get the hepatitis B vaccine?
A child who had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of hepatitis B vaccine should not be vaccinated with it again.
If your child didn't get hepatitis B shots as a baby, and she's had a life-threatening allergic reaction to baker's yeast (the kind used in bread), she shouldn't receive the hepatitis B vaccine because it's made with that type of yeast.
Are there any precautions I should take?
In general, the hepatitis B vaccine isn't as effective in preemies if they get it before they're 1 month old. If you have a preemie, talk to your child's doctor to find out when your baby can get the vaccine.
All children who are moderately to severely ill should wait until they recover before getting the hepatitis B vaccine.
What are the possible side effects?
Some children feel soreness at the injection site, and a few develop a low-grade fever. Severe allergic reactions are rare but possible with any vaccine.
See what our expert says about how to tell whether your child is having an adverse reaction.
Despite rumors, there's no evidence linking the hepatitis B vaccine to SIDS or autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis or diabetes.
If your child has an adverse reaction to this or any other vaccine, talk to your child's doctor and report it to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.