Hepatitis A (hep A) vaccine
Hepatitis A (hep A) is rare in Aotearoa New Zealand, but is common in some countries. If you’re planning to travel, check whether hep A immunisation is advised. Immunisation may also be recommended for certain tamariki at high risk.
What it protects you from
Hep A is viral disease that affects the liver. It’s rare in New Zealand, but more common in parts of Africa and Asia. If you’re travelling overseas, ask your doctor if your whānau need to be immunised against hep A.
Hep A is spread by contact with the faeces (poo) of an infected person. It can be passed on through:
- not washing hands properly
- contaminated food or water (in 2022 hep A was found in imported frozen berries)
- close personal contact with someone who has the virus.
Early symptoms of hep A infection can be mistaken for the flu. The usual symptoms are nausea and stomach pain, with jaundice (yellow skin). Some people, especially children, may have no symptoms at all.
There are usually no long-term issues associated with hep A, most people recover completely. Rarely, hep A can lead to complications such as liver failure and death.
Who should get the hep A vaccine
People travelling to specific countries
Talk to your doctor, nurse, or healthcare provider if you’re planning travel to high or moderate-risk hep A areas, as immunisation is recommended.
- High-risk areas include Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and the Middle East.
- Moderate-risk areas include the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe (including Russia) and parts of the Pacific.
The vaccine should be given at least 2 weeks before your trip overseas so your body has time to respond to the vaccine.
There is a cost for the hep A vaccine for travel purposes. This is approximately $50 for a child, and $100 for an adult per dose.
High-risk groups can get the hep A vaccine for free. It includes:
- transplant patients
- tamariki with chronic liver disease
- close contacts of hep A cases.
Recommended groups (but not free)
Hep A immunisation is recommended but not free for:
- adults with chronic liver disease
- men who have sex with men
- people travelling to specific countries
- people exposed to faeces (poos) in their work including:
- employees of early childhood services, particularly where there are children too young to be toilet trained
- sewage workers
- those who work in zoos with primates
- food handlers during community outbreaks
- armed forces personnel who are likely to be deployed to high-risk hep A areas.
There is a cost for the hep A vaccine for these groups. This is approximately $50 for a child and $100 for an adult per dose.
Which hep A vaccine is used
The free hep A vaccine we use in New Zealand is:
- Havrix (16+ years old)
- Havrix Junior (1 to 15 years old). Not recommended in children under 1 year of age.
If you’re paying for a hep A vaccine (for example for travel) your vaccinator will discuss options with you.
Side effects and reactions
Like most medicines, vaccines can sometimes cause reactions. These are usually mild, and not everyone will get them.
Mild reactions are normal and shows that your immune system is responding to the vaccine.
If you’re going to have any reactions, they normally happen in the first few days after getting vaccinated. The vaccine itself is gone from your body within a few hours or days.
The most common reaction to an immunisation includes:
- a slight fever
- pain or swelling where the needle went in.
Common reactions of the hep A vaccine include:
- nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
Serious side effects are rare. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your doctor or nurse, or call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116.
Call 111 if you’re worried you, or your child, is having a serious reaction.
Serious allergic reactions are extremely rare. Only about 1 in 1 million people will experience this.
Your vaccinator is well-trained and knows what to look for and can treat an allergic reaction quickly if it happens.
Serious allergic reactions normally happen within the first few minutes of vaccination, this is why you need to wait for up to 20 minutes after immunisation.