What is the hepatitis A vaccine?
The hepatitis A vaccine protects against infection from the hepatitis A virus.
Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine?
Over the last 15 years, there have been many outbreaks of hepatitis A in Aboriginal communities in B.C., and so the hepatitis A vaccine has been offered to all Aboriginal children and adolescents aged 6 months to 18 years living both on-reserve and off-reserve since January 1, 2012.
The hepatitis A vaccine is also recommended for, and provided free to, the following people at high risk of infection:
- Those who have hemophilia or receive repeated infusions of blood or blood products.
- Those who inject illegal drugs or share drug snorting, smoking, or injecting equipment.
- Males who have sex with other males.
- Those with HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection, or chronic liver disease.
- Those who have had a stem cell transplant.
- Those who will have or have had a liver transplant.
- Inmates of a correctional facility.
- Those who are in close contact with persons infected by the hepatitis A virus – such as people living in the same house, sexual partners, close friends, and children in the same daycare.
- Those who have eaten food prepared by a food handler with hepatitis A infection.
If you may have been exposed to hepatitis A, you should get 1 dose of the vaccine within 14 days of the exposure to prevent disease. This is provided for free.
The vaccine is also recommended, but not provided free, for people likely to come in contact with or spread the hepatitis A virus, including:
- Those living, working or travelling in developing countries, particularly in rural areas.
- Food handlers.
- Those with multiple sex partners.
- Residents and staff of institutions for the developmentally challenged with an ongoing problem with hepatitis A infection.
- Zoo-keepers, veterinarians and researchers who handle primates.
- Those involved in research on hepatitis A virus, or the production of hepatitis A vaccine.
Anyone who is not eligible for a free hepatitis A vaccine can buy it at most pharmacies and travel clinics.
The vaccine is given to those 6 months of age and older as a series of 2 doses. The second dose is given at least 6 months after the first.
What are the benefits of the hepatitis A vaccine?
The vaccine is the best way to protect against hepatitis A infection. When you or your child get vaccinated, you help protect others too.
What are the side effects?
Vaccines are very safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get hepatitis A.
Many people have no side effects from the vaccine. However, for those that do, common side effects may include soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given. Headache, fatigue, fever, and stomach upset may also occur after getting the vaccine. These reactions are mild and generally last 1 to 2 days.
It is important to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after getting any vaccine because there is a very rare possibility, between one in 100,000 and one in a million, of a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This may include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue or lips. Should this reaction occur, your health care provider is prepared to treat it. Emergency treatment includes administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) and transfer by ambulance to the nearest emergency department. If symptoms develop after you leave the clinic, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
It is important to always report serious or unexpected reactions to your health care provider.
Where can I learn more?
- Read the HealthLinkBC File: Hepatitis A Vaccine.
- Speak to your health care provider.
About hepatitis A
- Hepatitis A is a virus that attacks the liver.
- Hepatitis A is found in the stool (poop) of infected persons and is spread through contaminated (unsafe) food and water or through close contact with an infected person.
- Signs of hepatitis A may include tiredness, fever, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach pain, dark urine (pee), pale stools, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
- Some people, especially young children, may not have any signs.
- For every 1,000 people infected, 1 to 3 will die.
The risk of dying from hepatitis A infection is higher in people 50 years of age and older.