A safe and effective protective vaccine against hepatitis B has been available for over fifteen years. This vaccine is manufactured from proteins from the surface of the hepatitis B virus. (An older vaccine that is seldom used today is pooled from donated blood. It is treated to prevent transmission of known bloodborne infections, including HIV, and there have not been any reported cases of transmission of bloodborne infections from this vaccine.) Either vaccination is given in three doses over a period of six months at a cost of about $100 for the entire series. Unfortunately this cost prevents many at-risk people from receiving the vaccine. Those who are at risk for hepatitis B may want to be screened before receiving the vaccine series, since they may have already been infected and therefore would not need the vaccine. (However, no harm is done if a person who already has hepatitis B receives the vaccine.) The most common side effects from the vaccine are arm pain and mild, flu-like symptoms. Approximately 95 percent of people who receive the three shots acquire lifelong protection from infection. Poor response to the vaccine may be due to advanced age, obesity, or smoking.
You can be checked after immunization to make sure that you have had an adequate response to the vaccine. For some people—such as those who are HIV positive, dialysis patients, people whose sexual partners have chronic hepatitis B infection, or infants born to chronically infected mothers—this step is especially important.