Hepatitis A vaccine
On this page:
- What is hepatitis A?
- Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine?
- What are the benefits of the hepatitis A vaccine?
- What are the side effects?
- Where can I learn more?
What is hepatitis A?
- Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus.
- Symptoms of hepatitis A may include fatigue, fever, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, dark urine, pale stools, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
- Some people, especially young children, may not have any symptoms.
- About 1 in 200 people infected with the virus will die. The risk of dying from hepatitis A infection is higher in people 50 years of age and older.
- The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool of infected people. It can spread directly from person to person or in food or water that has been contaminated with stool that has the virus.
The hepatitis A vaccine is the best way to protect against hepatitis A infection.
Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine?
The hepatitis A vaccine is given to those 6 months of age and older. It is usually given as a series of 2 doses at least 6 months apart.
The hepatitis A vaccine is provided free to people at high risk of infection or severe illness, including:
- 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.
Indigenous children and adolescents aged 6 months to 18 years. Babies get their first dose at 6 months of age and the second dose at 18 months. Older children need 2 doses of vaccine with at least 6 months between doses
People with HIV should get 3 doses of the vaccine. The second dose is given 1 month after the first dose. The third dose is given 5 months later.
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, where hepatitis A is common.
Household or close contacts of adopted children from countries where hepatitis A is common.
Immigrants from countries where hepatitis A is common.
- Food handlers.
- Those with multiple sex partners.
- Residents and staff of institutions caring for people with developmental challenges where there is ongoing hepatitis A infection.
- Zoo-keepers, veterinarians and researchers who handle non-human 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.
Find information in different languages in the HealthLinkBC File: Hepatitis A Vaccine.
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, tiredness, fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea 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 an extremely rare possibility less than 1 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. If this reaction occurs, your health care provider can 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. Learn more about anaphylaxis on our vaccine side effects page.
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.