You may have seen in the news recently that UK health officials are limiting the amount of people who can have a vaccination against hepatitis B due to a shortage. For many people, including those due to travel over the next few months, this might be a cause for concern. However, the following information should help put your mind at ease if you’re worried about the shortage.

Hepatitis B shortage – what’s happened?

A complication in the manufacturing process has meant that there is a temporary shortage of the hepatitis B vaccine. For now, stocks are being limited to those with the greatest need, meaning people waiting or due to have the vaccine may have to wait a bit longer for it. It’s likely that the situation won’t be resolved until 2018, as the vaccine is one that is difficult and takes a while to manufacture.

About hepatitis B

Like all strains of hepatitis, hepatitis B is an infection of the liver and is caused by a virus. Hepatitis B is spread from person to person through bodily fluid and blood, and is particularly serious for children whose livers haven’t fully developed. Most adults who contract hepatitis B may not even know that they’ve had it, and it can pass within a few months without the need for treatment. Despite this, there’s around 5% of adults who contract hepatitis B that suffer more chronic symptoms – particularly those in developing countries. If you were to suffer symptoms from a hepatitis B infection, these would typically occur months after the infection started and would include:

  • -Flu-like symptoms
  • -Nausea
  • -Diarrhoea
  • -Stomach pains
  • -Fever
  • -Aches and pains
  • -Loss of appetite
  • -Yellowing of the eyes and skin

Am I at risk?

Hepatitis B is quite uncommon in the UK, and those who are at risk are originally from countries that are considered high-risk, as well as those who practice unsafe sex and inject drugs. If you are travelling to a country that is considered high-risk like Sub Saharan Africa or South East Asia, you may be recommended a vaccination from your doctor, although your risk of transmitting the disease is fairly low.

As babies in particular are of the highest risk of developing hepatitis B, they will be given priority for available vaccine stocks. It’s recommended that all infants are vaccinated but there may be a wait until you are able to do so.

Protecting against hepatitis B

You can protect yourself and your family from being infected with hepatitis B through avoiding situations where you could be at risk of catching it, including:

  • Unprotected sex
  • Having a tattoo or piercing from somewhere that isn’t practicing good hygiene and could be using contaminated needles.
  • You should ensure that you are cautious when travelling and use sterile medical tools when necessary.

If you believe that you are at-risk and need the vaccination, you can get a full list of GP practices in Richmond here while you may also be able to pay privately for a vaccination with the RichmondPractice. It’s recommended that you call first to see if there are stocks of the vaccination available before trying to make a walk-in appointment.

If you are concerned about hepatitis B and think you may have been infected, you should seek an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible – especially if you have children in your household. In the meantime, you can access NHS Choices’ hepatitis B information that will tell you more about the symptoms and treatment as well as the vaccination process.