Hepatitis B (“Hep B”) Vaccine

What is the Hepatitis B (“Hep B”) Vaccine?

The Hepatitis B vaccine is formulated to prevent infections from the Hepatitis B virus and the complications that can arise as a result of infection.  Hepatitis B vaccines do not protect against Hepatitis A or Hepatitis C.  To understand how the Hepatitis B vaccine works, it is important to first understand Hepatitis B itself.

Hepatitis B is a severe liver infection characterized by jaundice, dark urine, extreme fatigue and weakness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and loss of appetite.  It is caused by the Hepatitis B virus.  Transmission of the Hepatitis B virus occurs through contact with body fluids including blood, semen and saliva.  Symptoms can persist for longer than six months or subside more quickly in acute cases, depending on the strength of the infected person’s immune system.  Chronic cases can result in complications like cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, or outright liver failure.  No specific, unique treatment exists for acute cases of Hepatitis B, although there are treatments like Hepatitis B immune globulin designed to slow the progression of complications that arise from chronic cases.  Complications are often fatal.

Hepatitis B vaccinations use the surface proteins of the circular Hepatitis B genome to incite an autoimmune response in the body. Once this autoimmune response begins, antibodies are created that will fend off future Hepatitis B infections.  The earliest Hepatitis B vaccines, developed throughout the 1970s and first introduced in the early 1980s, were derived from the blood plasma of infected patients.  The current version of the Hepatitis B vaccine, first introduced in 1986, inserts Hepatitis B surface protein into yeasts cells where the surface protein is further cultivated for use in vaccines.  This method is thought to be safer than using purified human blood, as it does not expose those who are vaccinated to the full DNA of the Hepatitis B virus.

Who should receive the Hep B vaccine?

The Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended as a three-dose series of shots.  Typically it is given to infants over a six month period, a schedule that should be completed between six and 18 months of age.  The World Health Organization recommends administration of the initial Hepatitis B vaccine dose within 24 hours of birth.  Furthermore, the Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for adults who have not previously received the vaccine or as a booster shot for people who may be more prone to contracting the virus through contact with body fluids, such as healthcare professionals, family members of those already infected, people with multiple sexual partners, diabetics, people on kidney dialysis, injectable drug users and organ-donation recipients.  Because the Hepatitis B vaccination is cultivated using yeast cells, people with yeast allergies should not receive the Hepatitis B vaccine.

How is the Hep B Vaccine administered?

All adult Hepatitis B vaccines should be administered intramuscularly into the deltoid (the upper arm), through the skin, underneath the fatty tissue and into the muscle tissue.  All intramuscular Hepatitis B should be injected at a 90-degrees.  Improper intramuscular administration of vaccines can result in serious shoulder injuries.  For infants, hepatitis B vaccines should be administered into the thigh.

Hepatitis B Related Links:
CDC Vaccine Administration guidelines
The World Health Organization – Hepatitis B fact Sheet
Mayo Clinic – Hepatitis B Vaccine (Intramuscular Route)
Mayo Clinic – Hepatitis B Definition
Hepatitis B Foundation – Hepatitis B Vaccine information