Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are two types of hepatitis. (The others are types C, D, and E.) These types of hepatitis are caused by a virus.
Each of those viruses is different. But the diseases they cause are similar. Hepatitis brings liver inflammation, and it can be serious or even life-threatening.
There are safe and effective vaccines that can prevent hepatitis A and B (but not cause types C, D, or E). There is also a combination vaccine that guards against A and B.
Who Should Get the Hepatitis A Vaccine?
The CDC recommends that all children between ages 12 months and 23 months get this vaccine as well as for any infant aged 6 to 11 months who is traveling internationally.
The following people are also at risk for the disease and should be vaccinated:
- Children and teens aged 2 - 18 years who have not been vaccinated previously
- Men who have sexual contact with other men
- Anyone who uses illegal drugs
- People with chronic (long-term) liver disease
- Anyone treated with blood clotting drugs, such as people with hemophilia
- People who work with HAV (hepatitis A virus)-infected primates or those involved in research handling Hepatitis A virus
- People who are homeless or live in temporary housing
- People with HIV
- People who want to be vaccinated against hepatitis A to avoid a future infection
- People with recent exposure to hepatitis A (should get vaccine within 2 weeks of exposure)
- Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common. A good source to check is the CDC’s travelers’ health website, which you can search by the country you’re going to.
- People adopting or close to a child adopted from a country where hepatitis A is common
You should not get the vaccine if you're allergic to any ingredients in it or if you had a severe allergic reaction to an earlier dose of it. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any allergies you have. If you are moderately or severely ill at the time of vaccination, you should speak to your doctor first.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should be vaccinated if you are at risk of getting hepatitis A.
Who Should Get the Hepatitis B Vaccine?
The CDC recommends that all infants get their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth.
It is also recommended for:
- People 59 years of age or younger who haven't been vaccinated
- Anyone who has a sex partner with hepatitis B
- People who are sexually active but aren’t in a long-term relationship in which both partners are monogamous
- Anyone being evaluated or treated for an STD
- Men who have sex with men
- People who share needles used to inject drugs
- Anyone who lives with someone who has hep B
- Anyone whose job routinely puts them at risk for coming in contact with blood or blood-contaminated body fluids
- People with end-stage kidney (renal) disease
- People who live and/or work in facilities for people who are developmentally disabled
- Travelers to regions with moderate to high rates of hepatitis B
- People with chronic liver disease
- People with HIV infections
- People with hepatitis C infection
- People who are or were recently in prison
- People who have diabetes
You should not get the vaccine if you have had a severe allergic reaction to an earlier dose or are allergic to yeast, because yeast is used to make the vaccine. If you are moderately or severely ill at the time of vaccination, you should speak to your doctor first.
How and When Do Doctors Give Vaccines?
For the hepatitis A vaccine:
You should get two doses, given as shots, 6 months apart for complete protection. The virus in the vaccine is killed (inactive).
Children should get the first dose between 12 and 23 months of age. Children older than age 2 can get the first dose at their next doctor’s visit.
If you need the vaccine because of upcoming travel, get it at least 1 month before you go.
For the hepatitis B vaccine:
For long-lasting immunity, you need two, three or four doses, depending on which type of vaccine is used. You get them as shots.
Children should get their first dose at birth and complete the series by age 6 months. Usually, the baby would get a second dose at 1 month old and the third dose at 6 months.
Babies born to women who have hepatitis B need a shot of hep B antibodies, as well as their first hep B vaccine shot, when they’re born. They will also need follow-up blood tests to make sure they’re OK.
Catch-up vaccinations are recommended for children and teens who were never vaccinated or who did not get all three shots.
If you're an adult who wants to be vaccinated, you should talk about it with your doctor or pharmacist. If you are considering both vaccines, ask your doctor about vaccines that combine hepatitis A and B.