How HPV is spread
You can catch HPV if you're sexually active with another person who already has the virus. As HPV usually has no symptoms, most people don’t realise they are infected.
Most of the time, HPV doesn't cause cancer because the body's immune system kills the virus.
How HPV can affect your health
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause:
- cervical cancer
- genital warts
- other types of cancer
What the HPV vaccine does
The vaccine used in Northern Ireland protects against the two types of HPV that cause:
- most cases of cervical cancer
- most genital warts
But the vaccine doesn't protect you against all other types of HPV or sexually transmitted infections. As you get older, you still need cervical screening.
Getting the HPV vaccine in school
The HPV vaccine is offered to all 12 and 13 year old girls in year nine at school. For the best protection against HPV, the vaccine is given before sexual activity usually starts.
If a girl in year nine is already sexually active, she can get the vaccine as it may still protect her from the virus.
Getting the HPV vaccine from your GP
If you haven't received the vaccine before you're 15 years old, you can ask your GP for vaccination. They should offer you three vaccine injections.
If you're over 18 and believe the HPV vaccine could be beneficial, you can ask your GP. They can prescribe the vaccine.
How the HPV vaccine is given
A nurse or doctor gives the vaccine as an injection in your upper arm.
When the vaccine is given
Vaccination is a school-based programme for girls in year nine. School health workers from your local Health and Social Care Trust give the vaccinations.
For the vaccine to work, girls in year nine get two injections within 12 months.
If a girl misses one or both doses of the vaccine in year nine, the school health department will contact her in year ten to get or complete the vaccination.
If a girl didn't get their first injection of HPV vaccine by the time they are 15, they'll need three injections within 12 months. This is because the antibody response is weaker in older girls.
Side effects of the HPV vaccine
Where the injection is given in the arm, the side effects are:
After the vaccine, some girls also have:
On rare occasions, some girls have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. This might be a rash or itch affecting all or part of the body.
As most side effects of the vaccine are mild and can be treated quickly, girls can continue with the course of HPV vaccination.
Parents and their daughters can ask the school’s health staff about the vaccine. Schools ask parents of girls aged under 16 for their consent before the vaccine is given.
Girls aged 16 and over can consent to get the vaccine unless they don’t understand what’s involved in giving consent.
Information about the vaccine
To read more information about the HPV vaccine, go to: