Vaccine Non-Responders

A hepatitis B vaccine “non-responder" refers to a person who does not develop protective surface antibodies after completing two full series of the hepatitis B vaccine and for whom an acute or chronic hepatitis B infection has been ruled out.

Although the majority of persons vaccinated against hepatitis B successfully respond to vaccination, an estimated 5-15% of persons may not respond due to older age, obesity, smoking, and other chronic illness.

It is also possible that a person who does not respond to the vaccine may already be infected with hepatitis B. Therefore, testing for the presence of the hepatitis B virus (hepatitis B surface antigen or HBsAg) is recommended before diagnosing a person as a "vaccine non-responder."

CDC Recommendations for Hepatitis B Vaccine Non-Responders

  • Persons who do not respond to the primary hepatitis B vaccine series (i.e., anti-HBs <10 mIU/mL) should complete a second 3-dose vaccine series or be evaluated to determine if they are HBsAg-positive. Persons who do not respond to an initial 3-dose vaccine series have a 30%--50% chance of responding to a second 3-dose series.
  • Revaccinated persons should be retested at the completion of the second vaccine series, 1-2 months following the last shot of the series.
  • Persons exposed to HBsAg-positive blood or body fluids who are known not to have responded to a primary vaccine series should receive a single dose of hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG) and restart the hepatitis B vaccine series with the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine as soon as possible after exposure. Alternatively, they should receive two doses of HBIG, one dose as soon as possible after exposure, and the second dose 1 month later.
  • The option of administering one dose of HBIG and restarting the vaccine series is preferred for non-responders who did not complete a second 3-dose vaccine series.
  • For persons who previously completed a second vaccine series but failed to respond, two doses of HBIG are preferred.

Hepatitis B vaccine “non-responders” who test negative for hepatitis B infection are at risk for being infected and should be counseled regarding how to prevent a hepatitis B infection and to seek immediate medical care to receive a dose of hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG) if they have been exposed to potentially infected blood.

Hepatitis B vaccine “non-responders" to vaccination who test positive for hepatitis B infection should be counseled regarding how to prevent transmitting the hepatitis B virus to others and the need for regular medical care and monitoring for their chronic infection.