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What Is the Hepatitis Vaccine?

There are three different viruses that cause hepatitis, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. However, there are only two hepatitis vaccines: one that protects against the liver failure caused by Hepatitis A and one that protects against Hepatitis B. The symptoms of hepatitis are similar for both A and B, but Hepatitis B is often more severe.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that often spreads through contaminated water or food, often from a fecal-oral route and poor sanitary conditions. Hepatitis A often resolves on its own without becoming chronic but can result in chronic liver disease and failure. Like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A can also lead to fulminant hepatitis. Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent both Hepatitis A and B infections.

Hepatitis A vaccines, such as Havrix and Vaqta, are inactivated vaccines, meaning that the virus is grown, then killed, thus inactivated (as opposed to a live virus). The inactivated virus contains the protective antigens that are used for the vaccine, which cause an immune reaction and antibody production when injected into the patient. This creates an immunologic response and memory that mobilizes quickly if the body is infected with a live virus. Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for all children starting at age one and travelers to certain high-risk countries, in addition to high-risk patients. It is typically given in two doses, 6 to 18 months apart.

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that spreads through contact with infectious body fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and maternal-fetal transmission, and can range from mild lasting a few weeks to a longer, chronic disease. Chronic Hepatitis B patients often suffer liver cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer over time, especially when the infection occurs at a young age. Symptoms of liver disease due to Hepatitis B include jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fever, joint pain, and clay-colored stool. Hepatitis B can sometimes lead to fulminant hepatitis, which is very severe, and to a rapidly worsening form of liver failure that can be life-threatening.

Hepatitis B vaccines, Engerix-B and Recombivax HB, are recombinant vaccines. A recombinant vaccine uses DNA technology to make the antigens that create the immunologic response and memory. Genes for the antigens are placed in a plasmid and ultimately injected into cells that then make the proteins that are then extracted, purified, and made into the vaccine.  The antigens in the vaccine when injected cause an immunologic response and memory. Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all infants with three doses: the first dose starting shortly after birth, the second dose one month after, and the third dose six months after.

Currently, there is no vaccine available for Hepatitis C, and the disease is managed by treatment with anti-viral medications.

What Side Effects Are Associated With the Hepatitis Vaccines?

Although the vaccines are generally safe, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) does list both common and rare side effects. Most reactions to the Hepatitis A and B vaccines are mild and include soreness at the injection site, headache, fatigue, and low to moderate fever. More serious adverse reactions include rare, severe allergic reactions and even rarer neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barre-Syndrome (GBS). These very rare severe reactions are generally autoimmune and result when the vaccine causes an immune response which mistakenly targets normal healthy cells.

The Vaccine Injury Table only lists the mild adverse reactions for the hepatitis vaccines, anaphylaxis, shoulder injury related to vaccine administration, and vasovagal syncope, as automatically compensable injuries. The more rare and severe injuries from hepatitis vaccines reports are found in the VAERS database. This means that to obtain compensation for a claimant, severe hepatitis injury claims need to be proven with medical expert testimony in immunology, hepatology and other specialties. The causal relationship between the hepatitis vaccine and a severe injury is not automatically compensable under the table.

What Compensation Is Available for a Vaccine Injury?

To be compensable, the vaccine related injury must be present for at least six months. Injury must either be listed on the table of vaccine injuries and fit into these specific symptoms and time frames set forth therein, or the petitioner must show through medical evidence that the injury was more likely than not caused by the vaccination. If a petitioner establishes that the vaccine likely caused the injury, compensation can be awarded for medical and rehabilitative expenses, pain and suffering, lost earnings, and a death benefit if there was a fatal event. However, damages for past and future pain and suffering are limited to a maximum amount of $250,000.

Why Contact an Experienced Vaccine Attorney?

To present a claim to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, an attorney must be admitted to the United States Court of Federal Claims. Knowledge about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) process and knowing the medical proofs required to obtain compensation are critical to success. There are complex issues in medicine and immunology that must be analyzed and proven in a claim for an HPV vaccine injury. The program has strict criteria for proving a vaccine injury that requires legally- and medically-complex documentation, and this is best handled by attorneys who have experience in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Our lawyers have extensive experience handling these claims through the NVIC and can guide you through all stages of the legal process. Contact us today for help.