Protect Yourself: The Importance of the Hepatitis B Vaccine

Why Get Vaccinated?

Hepatitis B is a potentially serious disease that primarily affects the liver. It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong condition. Acute hepatitis B is a short-term illness with symptoms like fever, fatigue, and nausea. On the other hand, chronic hepatitis B is a long-term disease that can lead to liver damage, liver cancer, and in severe cases, death.

One can get infected with hepatitis B through various modes, including contact with blood or open sores of an infected person, sexual contact with an infected partner, sharing needles, or other drug-injection equipment, and even from birth. Fortunately, the hepatitis B vaccine can prevent this disease, providing immunity for life for most people.

The Hepatitis B Vaccine

The hepatitis B vaccine is typically given as 2, 3, or 4 shots. Infants should receive their first dose at birth, and usually complete the series at 6–18 months of age. This initial dose plays a crucial role in preventing long-term illness in infants and the spread of hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all adults, particularly those at increased risk of exposure to hepatitis B who were not previously vaccinated. This vaccine can be given as a standalone vaccine or as part of a combination vaccine. Importantly, it can be administered at the same time as other vaccines.

Talk with Your Health Care Provider

Before vaccination, it's important to inform your health care provider about any past allergic reactions to the hepatitis B vaccine, or any severe, life-threatening allergies. In some cases, the provider may decide to postpone the vaccination.

Pregnant or breastfeeding people who were not previously vaccinated should be vaccinated, as pregnancy or breastfeeding are not reasons to avoid the hepatitis B vaccination. For those with minor illnesses, the vaccine can still be given. However, those who are moderately or severely ill should usually wait until they recover before getting the vaccine.

Risks of a Vaccine Reaction

As with any vaccine, some side effects might occur. These may include soreness at the injection site, fever, headache, and fatigue. In rare cases, people may faint after vaccination, so if you feel dizzy or have vision changes or ringing in the ears, notify your provider immediately.

Although extremely rare, there is a remote chance of a vaccine causing a severe allergic reaction, other serious injury, or even death.

What if There is a Serious Problem?

If a severe allergic reaction is observed after leaving the clinic (hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, fast heartbeat, dizziness, weakness), call 9-1-1 and get to the nearest hospital immediately.

For other signs that concern you, reach out to your health care provider. It's also crucial to report any adverse reactions to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

If you believe you have been injured by the vaccine, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is a federal program that compensates such individuals. However, claims regarding alleged injury or death due to vaccination have a time limit for filing, which can be as short as two years.

How Can You Learn More?

For more information, ask your healthcare provider, call your local or state health department, or visit the website of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for vaccine package inserts and additional information. You can also contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO) or visit the CDC's vaccines website.

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