Hepatitis A vaccine

The vaccine gives protection against hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It is also used to stop an infection that may have been caused by exposure.
Vaccine-preventable diseases

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To whom is the hepatitis A vaccine administered?

A free vaccine as part of the national programme is administered to persons who are at an increased risk of hepatitis A infection:

  • haemophiliacs receiving regular treatment
  • intravenous drug users
  • persons close to intravenous drug users, including family members, sexual partners and housemates
  • men who have sex with men

Remember also to check the hepatitis B protection of these persons. If a person has not received a hepatitis B vaccine previously, you can administer a free hepatitis A and B combination vaccine.

Which vaccine is used and what does it contain?

Havrix 1440 ELISA U/ml vaccine is used in the vaccination programme. There are different vaccine products for children and adults.

  • The vaccine does not contain live pathogens.
  • The active substance contains killed whole hepatitis A viruses.
  • The adjuvant is an aluminium compound.
  • The excipients are amino acids, salts, polysorbate 20 and purified water.
  • The vaccine contains no preservatives. According to information provided by the manufacturer, the vaccine has only traces of formaldehyde and neomycin.

Dosage and schedule

The vaccine can be used for children aged 1 year and older.

  • The dose for a child aged from 1 to 15 years is 0.5 ml.
  • The dose for adults is 1 ml.

The vaccination series consists of two injections, the second one of which should be administered 6 to 12 months after the first one. No boosters will be needed after the two doses, as it is currently believed that the vaccine affords lifelong protection.

The vaccine can also be administered after exposure. The protection it affords is highly effective if no more than two weeks have passed since the exposure.

What are the contraindications and precautions associated with the vaccine?

The vaccine may not be administered to a person who has had a confirmed anaphylactic reaction

  • previously after a dose of Havrix vaccine
  • to a substance contained in the vaccine
  • after another vaccine containing similar substances.

The vaccination should be postponed if the person has a fever or febrile infection.

What are the benefits of the hepatitis A vaccine?

The vaccine prevents hepatitis A infections. Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver. Its symptoms are

  • a yellowish tinge in skin and whites of the eyes
  • nausea, feeling ill and tiredness

Approx. one person out of a hundred who contract the illness develop severe symptoms that may destroy the liver, leading to a liver transplant or death.

In Finland, infections have been found in drug users. They are also at risk of other diseases that damage the liver, and the hepatitis A vaccine protects them from additional liver damage.

Hepatitis A is an infection that can easily be transmitted through food and drink, making it difficult to avoid abroad even in quality hotels. If hepatitis A virus infections contracted abroad can be prevented, this will also stop potential additional infections in Finland.

What are the potential adverse effects of the hepatitis A vaccine?

The most common adverse effects are local symptoms at the injection site, including pain, redness and swelling. One out of two adults and one out of four children develop these symptoms. 

Transient generalised symptoms are also common, including

  • fever
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • irritability
  • gastrointestinal symptoms
  • tiredness.

Skin symptoms or actual hypersensitivity reactions are rare.

Local and generalised symptoms usually begin within a few days of the vaccination and go on for some days. They may be treated with fever and pain medications.

Local and generalised symptoms are not a contraindication for further vaccinations.

History of the hepatitis A vaccine in the national vaccination programme 

Hepatitis A vaccinations for at-risk groups were included in the national programme in 2005. 

The initial target groups were intravenous drug users, persons close to them and haemophiliacs.

The vaccinations were introduced as domestic hepatitis A outbreaks spread among drug users in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In 2018, men who have sex with men were added to the target groups. Extensive and long-standing chains of infection have been found among this at-risk group in Europe in recent years.