About the HPV vaccine
The HPV vaccine helps protect you from cancers that can be caused by HPV, such as:
- over 70 per cent of cervical cancers (in women)
- some mouth and throat cancers
- some cancers of the anus and genitals
The vaccine will also protect you against the two types of HPV that cause the majority of cases of genital warts. It won’t protect you against any other sexually transmitted infections. It also won’t stop girls getting pregnant.
The HPV vaccine is used in 84 countries. Over 80 million people have received the vaccine worldwide.
There is evidence that the vaccine is already having a major impact on HPV infections in the UK, Australia and Denmark. In time it is expected that the vaccine will save hundreds of lives every year.
Although it is very unlikely that you will be at risk of HPV infection for many years, it is recommended you have the vaccine at age 12 to 13 years, because studies show that protection from the vaccine is better when it is given at an earlier age.
How HPV is spread
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is very common with as many as half the population infected with HPV some time in their lives. You can catch it through intimate sexual contact with another person who already has the virus.
There are over 100 types of HPV but only 13 of them are known to cause cancer. There are usually no symptoms, so many won’t realise they are infected.
Most of the time, the virus does not cause cancer. This is because it is killed off by the body’s immune system, but not always. Some infections persist and lead to cancer or genital warts - this is why the vaccine is so important.
Having the vaccine
You will need two injections within 12 months to get the best protection. Like the vaccinations you had as a baby, it is important you complete the course and have both doses for it to work properly.
If you are 15 years of age or over when you get the first dose you will need to get three doses within 12 months.
Your school health team will arrange for you to have the vaccination in year 9 at school. You will also be offered the vaccine in year 10 if you didn’t receive it the year before. The nurse will give you the vaccination in your upper arm.
Parents or guardians of girls and boys aged under 16 should give their consent before vaccination. You give consent by signing and returning the consent form to your child’s school.
You and your child can ask the school for more information about the vaccine.
It is important to note that if your child is between 12 and 16 years of age, the final decision to have the vaccine is legally your child’s as long as he or she understands the issues in giving consent.
Girls and boys aged 16 and over can consent to get the vaccine, if they are in the eligible group for the vaccination programme, unless they don’t understand what’s involved in giving consent.
Getting the HPV vaccine
The vaccine is offered routinely, through a school-based programme, to all males and females aged 12 to 13 years (school year 9). If you have been eligible for the vaccine but have not received it in school, you can still receive it free of charge until the age of 18, if you ask your doctor.
If you start the vaccination course on or after your 15th birthday, you need three doses to be fully protected. This is because the antibody response is weaker in older girls and boys.
If you're over 18 and believe the HPV vaccine could be helpful, you can discuss this with your GP. They may prescribe the vaccine for you.
Side effects of the HPV vaccine
The side effects of the vaccination are quite mild – usually just soreness, swelling and redness in the arm, which soon wears off.
Rarely, some people have a reaction soon after the injection, like a rash. The nurse will know how to treat this. It is not a reason not to have more injections for HPV or other diseases.
Severe allergic reactions are rare and nurses are trained to deal with them. People recover completely with treatment, usually within a few hours.
The vaccine meets the rigorous safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries.
Millions of doses of vaccine have already been given in the UK and around the world. As with all vaccines, reports of side effects are closely monitored and reviewed.
Changes to the HPV vaccination programme
Since 2008, the HPV vaccine has been offered to all 12-13 year old girls in school years 9 and 10. From September 2019 the vaccine will also be offered to boys in the same way.
This is because the evidence is clear that the HPV vaccine helps protect both boys and girls from HPV-related cancers.
How long the HPV vaccine protects you
Studies have already shown that the vaccine protects against HPV infection for at least 10 years, although experts expect protection to last for much longer.
But because the HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, it's important that all girls who receive the HPV vaccine also have regular cervical screening once they reach the age of 25.