What is hepatitis B?

The hepatitis B virus (also known as HBV or Hep B) is carried in the blood and can infect liver cells. The virus can sometimes cause damage and inflammation of the liver (hepatitis). Long-term problems can include scarring in the liver (cirrhosis) which increases your chances of developing liver cancer.

You can be protected from hepatitis B by having a vaccine. The hepatitis B vaccine consists of a course of injections which contain an inactive hepatitis B virus. This encourages your body to produce antibodies which fight the hepatitis B virus if it enters your bloodstream. This will significantly reduce your chances of contracting the virus.

Why should you get the hepatitis B vaccine?

If you require kidney treatments such as regular dialysis or a transplant, you will be at a slightly increased risk of getting hepatitis B. This is because you may be exposed to blood and other bodily fluids during treatment and having a kidney impairment means you have a higher risk of infection or disease.

While kidney units have procedures in place to reduce the risk of hepatitis B infection, the risk cannot be completely removed. Therefore, we recommend all patients who are having kidney treatments, or who may need them in the future, to be vaccinated against the virus.

How to get the vaccination

If you would like to have your vaccination, please speak to your low-clearance nurse and they will book this for you. Your vaccination will be given at your local kidney unit.

It is recommended to complete the course using the same brand of hepatitis B vaccine and not to interchange with another.

How is the vaccination given?

The brand of hepatitis vaccine usually given at the Royal Free Hospital kidney clinic is HBvaxPRO. It is given as an injection into the muscle in the upper arm and requires three injections over six months.

You will have your first two doses one month apart, and the third dose six months after the first. For example, if you had your first injection in January, you would have your second injection in February and your third injection in July. If the date falls on a weekend or bank holiday, you will be given your vaccination on the next closest date available.

It is important to complete the course of all three injections. If not, you may not be fully protected against the disease. If you are unable to complete the three injections, you may need to repeat the course.

You should not receive the vaccine if:

  • You are unwell and have a temperature.
  • You have had a serious reaction to any hepatitis B vaccination in the past
  • You have a known allergy to latex
  • You should have a gap of at least two weeks between receiving the hepatitis B vaccine and another vaccine, such as the flu jab. Please let your kidney nurse know if you have had any other vaccines recently at your next clinic appointment.

Risks and side-effects

Side effects from having the vaccine are uncommon. You may develop soreness and redness at the injection site.

Some people develop a mild fever and flu-like symptoms days after the injection; however this is rare. If you feel unwell after having the vaccine or are worried about side-effects, please speak to your kidney nurse for advice.

Very rarely, people have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. If you get a rash, swelling of the face or difficulty in swallowing, you seek urgent medical help with your doctor, call 111 for advice or dial 999 in an emergency.

Further information on side-effects is available in the manufacturer’s patient information leaflet that comes with the vaccine. If you do not have a copy, please ask your kidney nurse for one.

How long are you protected for?

Once you have completed your course of the vaccine, you will have an appointment with your kidney nurse six to eight weeks later for a blood test. This is to check if your body has made enough antibodies (chemicals that fight infection) to protect you from hepatitis B.

Your antibodies will be checked every six months after having your vaccine, and an extra dose of the vaccine (called a booster) may be given if needed. People with reduced kidney function may not produce enough antibodies. If your antibody count is low, it is sometimes necessary to repeat the vaccination to encourage your body to make more antibodies.

Do you have any further questions?

Please ask your kidney nurse or doctor if you have any other questions about hepatitis B vaccination.

Useful contacts

Royal Free hospital

St Pancras kidney care centre

Edgware kidney care centre

Tottenham Hale kidney care centre