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Hepatitis A vaccine

Definition

The hepatitis A vaccine protects against hepatitis A infection. This is a serious disease that can damage the liver.

Alternative Names

Immunization - hepatitis A; Vaccine - HepA; Immunization - HepA

Information

Hepatitis A infection is caused by the hepatitis A virus.

Hepatitis A vaccine is called HepA for short. It is made from smaller pieces of the whole hepatitis A virus. After getting the vaccine, the body learns to attack the hepatitis A virus if the person is exposed to it. As a result, the person is unlikely to get sick with hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A vaccine does not protect against other types of hepatitis. Currently, there is one other hepatitis vaccine, hepatitis B (HepB). So a person needs to receive HepB to be protected against hepatitis B infection.

WHO SHOULD GET THIS VACCINE

If you have had hepatitis A infection in the past, you do not need the vaccine. Once you have recovered from the infection, you are immune for life.

Children

HepA is one of the recommended childhood vaccines. HepA is given to children 1 year or older as a series of two doses (shots). The second dose is given 6 to 18 months after the first dose.

Children 2 through 18 years old should get two doses of HepA if they live in an area where many people have hepatitis A infection.

Adults

Adults 19 years or older should get the two doses of HepA if they:

  • Work or travel in areas where hepatitis A is common. These areas include Africa, Asia (except Japan), the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean.
  • Use recreational, injectable drugs.
  • Work with the hepatitis A virus in a laboratory or with research animals that are infected with the virus.
  • Have chronic (ongoing) liver disease.
  • Adopt children from a country where many people have hepatitis A.
  • Men who have sex with other men.

HepA can be received as a vaccine by itself. Or it can be received as a combined vaccine that protects against both hepatitis A and B. Your health care provider can tell you which vaccine is right for you or your child.

WHO SHOULD NOT RECEIVE THIS VACCINE

  • Children younger than age 1.
  • Persons who received a dose of the vaccine and developed an allergy from it. 
  • Pregnant women should ask their health care provider if the vaccine is safe for them. 
  • Persons who are ill with something more severe than a cold or have a fever should reschedule their vaccination until after they are recovered.

SIDE EFFECTS AND RISKS

Most persons who get the hepatitis A vaccine have no side effects. Others may have minor problems such as soreness and redness at the injection site or a mild fever. Serious problems are rare and are mainly due to allergic reactions to a part of the vaccine.

No vaccine works all of the time. It is still possible, though unlikely, to get hepatitis A infection even after receiving all doses (shots) of HepA.

CALL YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IF:

  • You are not sure if a person should get the hepatitis A vaccine 
  • Serious symptoms appear after receiving the vaccine
  • You have questions or concerns about the vaccine

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) Recommended Immunization Schedules for Persons Aged 0 Through 18 Years and Adults Aged 19 Years and Older - United States, 2013. MMWR. 2013;62(Suppl1):1-19.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine safety and adverse events. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/safety/default.htm. Accessed April 19, 2013.

Orenstein WA, Atkinson WL. Immunization. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 17.


Review Date: 2/21/2013
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Blackman, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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