Public Health England has announced emergency measures because of a global shortage of the hepatitis B vaccine.
The “prioritisation guidance” has been put in place to protect those at highest immediate risk from the shortage, which has been caused by problems in the manufacturing process.
The measures, which mean that only the most vulnerable will receive the vaccine while others will have to wait, are expected to continue until 2018.
Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver, which is spread through contact with infected blood and body fluids.
The risk of catching hepatitis B in the UK is very low, but the vaccine is usually offered to individuals who are at specific risk of being exposed to body fluids from an infected person.
This includes babies born to mothers who are infected with hepatitis B, the sexual partners of infected individuals and a range of other groups such as men who have sex with men, healthcare workers and intravenous drug users. It is also recommended for anyone undertaking activities such as getting a tattoo overseas.
The recently announced addition of hepatitis B protection to the routine childhood immunisation programme at two, three and four months will go ahead as the combined vaccine is not affected by the shortage.
A PHE spokeswoman said: “The manufacturers are getting more stock in but there has been an issue for a while so that’s why we have put this prioritisation guidance into place. We know that the Hepatitis B vaccine takes a long time and is quite difficult to manufacture.
“We will make sure those who really need the vaccine will get it, and those who are less at risk should get it at a later date. It’s important to note that we are a very low risk country for hepatitis B, and the most at risk group are babies.
“The most common route of transmission is when a baby is born to a mother who has it but the paediatric vaccine is not affected by the shortage.”
Individuals can reduce their risk of contracting hepatitis B by avoiding unprotected sex and injecting drugs, by not sharing needles when injecting, by avoiding having tattoos, piercings or acupuncture when overseas and by avoiding medical or dental care in high-prevalence countries.
The spokeswoman said: “We think there will be shortages until early 2018 so we are urging people to make sure they are taking the right precautions while the shortage is ongoing.”