The hepatitis A vaccine is called Havrix or VAQTA. It is a killed, or inactivated vaccine. This means it is made from smaller pieces of the whole hepatitis A virus. After you get the vaccine, your body learns to attack hepatitis A if you are exposed to it.
This means you are very unlikely to get sick with hepatitis A. Because no vaccine is 100% effective, however, it is still possible to get hepatitis A after you have been completely vaccinated.
The vaccine is given as a shot in your arm. You need two vaccinations to make sure you are completely protected against the disease. After receiving the first vaccination, children and adults should have a booster vaccination in 6 to 12 months.
You should be protected against the disease within 2 - 4 weeks after getting the first dose.
A vaccine for adults called Twinrix provides protection against both hepatitis A and B. It is given in three doses.
WHO SHOULD RECEIVE THIS VACCINE
Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for all children older than age 1.
People who work or travel in areas where hepatitis A is common should be vaccinated. These areas include Africa, Asia (except Japan), the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean.
If you are traveling to these areas before you are fully immunized (fewer than 4 weeks after your first shot), you should get a preventive dose of immunoglobulin (IG). If you are just a short-term traveler to these areas, you may wish to receive immunoglobulin (IG) instead of the vaccine.
Other people who are at higher risk for hepatitis A include:
People who use recreational, injectable drugs
People who work with the hepatitis A virus in a laboratory or with primates that may be infected with the virus
People who have chronic liver disease
People who receive clotting factor concentrate to treat hemophilia or other clotting disorders
Men who have sex with other men
Employees of child day care centers
People who care for patients living in long-term nursing homes and other facilities
WHO SHOULD NOT RECEIVE THIS VACCINE
If you have had hepatitis A in the past, you do NOT need the vaccine. Once you have recovered from the disease, you are immune for life.
Others who should NOT receive the vaccine include:
People who are allergic to the components of the vaccine
Children less than 1 year old
Pregnant or nursing mothers
Those who are sick or have a fever (they can delay receiving the vaccine until the illness goes away)
SIDE EFFECTS AND RISKS
Most people have no or only minor side effects from the vaccine. Serious problems are rare, and are mainly due to allergic reactions to a part of the vaccine.
The most common side effect of the vaccine is pain at the injection site. Other rare, but possible, side effects include:
Redness, swelling, or bruising at the injection site
Loss of appetite
CALL YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IF:
You develop a rash, itching, hives, or difficulty breathing after receiving the vaccine
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.