If your body doesn’t respond as expected to the hepatitis B vaccine, your clinician may refer to you as a ”hepatitis B nonresponder.” This means you have little to no immunity to the hepatitis B virus. But with a doctor’s guidance, there are next steps you can take.
While many people who receive the hepatitis B vaccine obtain the intended protections, some might not.
Healthcare professionals can often consider you a “nonresponder” to the hepatitis B vaccine if, after receiving two courses — the exact number of injections differs across brands — you have lower than expected levels of hepatitis B surface antibodies (anti-HBs) in your blood.
Anti-HBs protect against the virus. The higher your anti-HB levels, the more protection you have against the hepatitis B virus.
According to one 2021 study, approximately 5% to 10% of recipients do not respond as expected to an initial course of the hepatitis B vaccine.
Research from 2015 found that
Experts consider people who do not respond initially, after an additional dose, or after a second course of the hepatitis B vaccine to be “true” nonresponders.
The 2021 study above suggested that newer — so-called second- and third-generation — vaccines are more effective at overcoming nonresponsiveness.
Although experts need more research to fully understand why some people do not respond to the hepatitis B vaccine, genetics, age, sex assigned at birth, and overall health may be factors.
You may be
It’s important to note that having a weakened immune system or chronic health condition does not automatically guarantee that your body will not respond appropriately to the hepatitis B vaccine.
If you still need to start a vaccination course, it’s worth talking with a healthcare professional about your options.
They only recommend that the following groups refrain from getting the hepatitis B vaccine:
- people who had a severe allergic reaction to an earlier dose
- people who know they are allergic to a component of the vaccine
- people who are allergic to yeast
If you’re a nonresponder to the hepatitis B vaccine, reducing your risk of exposure and infection is important.
Some expert-recommended ways to minimize exposure to hepatitis B include:
- talking with your partners about their STI status before engaging in sexual activity
- using condoms, gloves, and other barrier methods during sexual activity
- opting for reputable tattoo and body piercing studios that practice proper sterilization practices
- avoiding sharing needles, syringes, and other sharps whenever possible
- disinfecting wounds and surfaces touched by blood and other bodily fluids
If you experience hepatitis B exposure, you can still receive immunoglobulin injections for short-term prevention and protection.
If you’re among the 5% to 10% of people who are initially nonresponders to the hepatitis B vaccine, there are steps you can take.
Some people experience effectiveness from the second round of vaccinations, so talk with a healthcare professional to see if this is right for you. They can also advise you on how to reduce your risk of contracting the virus.
John Loeppky is a disabled freelance journalist who currently resides in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada on Treaty 6 territory. His work has appeared for CBC, FiveThirtyEight, Defector, Insider, and a host of other publications. He can be reached at John@Jloeppky.com and his goal in life is to have an entertaining obituary to read.