Key messages

  • Hepatitis B (also referred to as hep B) is caused by the hepatitis B virus and is a viral infection that can lead to serious illness or death.
  • Immunisation is the best protection against hepatitis B infection and a course of vaccination is recommended for all babies and those in high-risk groups.
  • In Victoria, free hepatitis B vaccine is provided for men who have sex with men (MSM), people living with HIV and people who inject drugs (PWID).
  • All eligible people can access the vaccine through GP clinics and other registered immunisation providers in Victoria, including sexual health clinics.
  • Order vaccine online using the government-funded vaccine order form.
  • Report vaccine doses administered to the Australian Immunisation Register. The Register can also be used to check if your patient has recently received a dose through another provider.

In Victoria, free hepatitis B vaccine is provided for men who have sex with men (MSM), people living with HIV and people who inject drugs (PWID).

All MSM, people living with HIV and people who inject drugs can access the vaccine through GP clinics and other registered immunisation providers in Victoria, including sexual health clinics.

Why has the free vaccine program been introduced?

Hepatitis B (also referred to as hep B) is caused by the hepatitis B virus and is a viral infection that can lead to serious illness or death.

Hepatitis B is spread through contact with blood that contains the hepatitis B virus. You can get hepatitis B by having condomless sex, sharing unsterile piercing or drug injecting equipment, or engaging in other activities where the blood or body fluids of a person with hepatitis B enters the bloodstream of an uninfected person.

Immunisation is the best protection against hepatitis B infection.

Who is eligible to receive the free vaccine?

In Victoria, free hepatitis B vaccine is provided for people who are at increased risk; that is, MSM, people living with HIV and people who inject drugs.

Do I need to test for hepatitis B before vaccinating?

Testing for hepatitis B should be done prior to vaccination, if not done previously. When testing for HBV infection, specifically request HBsAg, anti-HBc, and anti-HBs. With all three results, you can reliably interpret your patient's HBV status in the vast majority of cases - and also avoid unnecessary vaccination.

Who can administer the free vaccine?

All eligible people can access the vaccine through GP clinics and other registered immunisation providers in Victoria, including sexual health clinics. 

What hepatitis B vaccine is supplied under the program and what age group can it be administered to?

The free hepatitis B vaccine brand supplied is Engerix-B®.

Engerix-B® is provided in a paediatric and adult formulation of recombinant DNA hepatitis B vaccine. The paediatric formulation is registered for use under 20 years of age and the adult formulation is registered from 20 years of age and older.

What does this vaccine protect against?

Engerix-B® provides protection against the hepatitis B infection.

How is the Engerix-B® presented?

Engerix-B® paediatric formulation presents as a 0.5ml dose and Engerix-B® adult formulation presents as a 1.0ml dose./p>

Both formulations are in a pre-filled syringe. Some stock will be delivered with a needle for injection and future stock will not contain a needle. Immunisation providers will need to supply the injection needle.

How is Engerix-B® administered?

Engerix-B® is administered by intramuscular injection into the deltoid muscle.

How many doses are required and what is the spacing interval of Engerix-B® to complete a course?

Engerix-B® is a three-dose course with the second dose given four weeks after the first dose and the third dose given five months after the second dose.

This is an ongoing vaccine program currently in place for MSM, people living with HIV and people who inject drugs.

If an eligible person received a complete course of hepatitis B vaccine previously, do they still require a free booster dose of Engerix-B® vaccine now?

Booster doses of hepatitis B vaccine (after completion of a primary course by using the recommended schedule) are not recommended for immunocompetent persons.

This applies to children and adults, including healthcare workers and dentists.

However, booster doses are recommended for persons who are immunocompromised, in particular those with either HIV infection or renal failure. The time for boosting in such persons should be decided by regular monitoring of anti-HBs levels at six to 12 monthly intervals.

If an eligible person did not receive a complete course of hepatitis B vaccine previously, do they require a free dose of Engerix-B® vaccine now?

Yes. They should receive the Engerix-B® vaccine to complete their course of hepatitis B vaccination.

The recommended spacing between the first and second dose of monovalent hepatitis B vaccine is one month and the recommended spacing between the second and third doses is five months. A hepatitis B vaccine course does not need to be restarted.

If a hepatitis B vaccine course was started with a brand different to Engerix-B®, does the course need to be started again?

If the hepatitis B course was commenced with another brand of hepatitis B vaccine, the course can be completed now with the Engerix-B® vaccine using recommended spacing intervals.

If the eligible person previously commenced their hepatitis B vaccine course using the combination hepatitis A/hepatitis B vaccine, Twinrix®, what vaccination is given to complete their course?

If the hepatitis vaccine course was previously commenced with Twinrix®, the combination hepatitis A/hepatitis B vaccine, the person should complete their course with the Twinrix® brand

However, Twinrix® is not a free, government supplied vaccine and would need to be purchased on prescription.

Are there any timing interval considerations for vaccine administration with hepatitis A, hepatitis B and HPV vaccines?

The hepatitis A, hepatitis B and HPV vaccines are inactivated vaccines and can be administered on the same day, or at any time before or after, each other using different injection sites separated by 2.5 cm.

Can a person who is living with HIV be vaccinated with Engerix-B® vaccine?

Yes. Adults living with HIV and other immunocompromised adults, may be at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis B infection and also respond less well to vaccination.

Limited studies in HIV1-positive adults have demonstrated an improved and accelerated serological response to a schedule that consists of four double doses, comprising two injections of the standard adult dose (using Engerix-B) on each occasion, at times zero, one, two and six months.

If an eligible person receives the three-dose course of Engerix-B® vaccine, is a booster dose required later?

Booster doses of hepatitis B vaccine (after completion of a primary course by using recommended schedule) are not recommended for immunocompetent persons.

This applies to children and adults, including healthcare workers and dentists.

However, booster doses are recommended for persons who are immunocompromised, in particular those with either HIV infection or renal failure. The time for boosting in such persons should be decided by regular monitoring of anti-HBs levels at six to 12 monthly intervals.

Can Engerix-B® be administered with other vaccines offered free to MSM and people who inject drugs?

Yes. Multiple vaccines can be administered on the same day at different injection sites.

For more information about free vaccinations for MSM, download the Important health information for men who have sex with men fact sheet.

For more information about free vaccinations for people who inject drugs, download the Important health information for people who inject drugs fact sheet.

Are there any vaccine side effects for Engerix-B®?

The most common side effects following administration of Engerix-B® are soreness at the injection site, fever, nausea, dizziness, malaise, myalgia and arthralgia.

Important information

Important health information for men who have sex with men: a guide for health professionals and immunisation providers - factsheet
Important health information for people who inject drugs: a guide for health professionals and immunisation providers - factsheet
Online vaccine order forms

Consumer information

Better Health Channel: Time to immunise