OBJECTIVE: Hepatitis A can cause decompensation and death in patients with previous liver injury. The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for patients with chronic liver disease. The aim of this study was to screen, immunize, and measure the safety and antibody response of the hepatitis A vaccine in liver failure and liver transplant patients. METHODS: This was a prospective immunization trial at a referral center for liver disease and liver transplantation. A total of 193 patients with severe chronic liver disease were screened and 24 patients were vaccinated. Sixteen end stage liver disease patients were compared with eight liver transplant patients. Hepatitis A vaccinations using 1440 ELISA units were given at 0 and 2 months. Serum hepatitis A antibody titers were measured after each vaccine dose. An antibody response ≥33 mIU/ml was considered protective. RESULTS: Screening seropositive rate was 70 of 193 (36%) and 24 patients were available for vaccination. The median antibody titer was markedly lower in liver transplant patients, 0.0 mIU/ml compared to liver failure patients 34.7 mIU/ml (p < 0.001). Liver transplant recipients did not respond to the vaccine (0 of eight patients) compared with seven of 14 liver failure patients (seroconversion rate 50%, p = 0.02). CONCLUSIONS: Liver failure significantly reduces the antibody response to hepatitis A vaccine, and liver transplant recipients were unable to respond to the vaccine. Although this study was small, immunization should be considered early for susceptible patients with chronic liver disease because the development of liver failure may blunt the immunogenicity of the vaccine.
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