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Frequently asked questions for HPV vaccine

How do people get HPV?

Anybody who ever has sexual contact has a risk of getting HPV. The HPV types that cause cervical cancer are called high-risk HPV. They can be passed on through:

  • vaginal, anal and oral sex
  • touching in the genital area
  • sharing sex toys.

HPV is most common in young, sexually active people, usually between the ages of 16 and 25.

We have more information about how people get HPV.

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My partner always wears a condom and/or uses a dental dam. Will this stop me getting HPV?

Having safe sex by using condoms or dental dams helps reduce the risk of getting HPV, but it does not completely get rid of the risk. HPV lives on the skin in and around the whole genital area, not just the part you are covering!

In men, genital HPV affects the:

  • skin of the penis
  • scrotum
  • anus
  • rectum.

In women, genital HPV affects the:

  • vulva (area outside the vagina)
  • linings of the vagina, cervix and rectum.

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Does the HPV vaccine protect against genital warts?

Yes, 2 of the 3 HPV vaccines protect against genital warts. Gardasil, which is used in schools as part of the NHS vaccination programme, protects against:

  • HPV types 16 and 18, which cause 7 in 10 (70%) cervical cancers.
  • HPV types 6 and 11, which cause around 9 in 10 (90%) cases of genital warts.

Gardasil 9 also protects against genital warts. Cervarix does not protect against genital warts, but does protect against high-risk HPV types 16 and 18.

We have more information about genital warts.

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When is the best time to have the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is most effective before you begin puberty, as this is usually when our immune system is strongest. This is why the NHS vaccination programme offers the vaccine in schools at ages 11 to 13 in Scotland and 12 to 13 in the rest of the UK.

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How long will the HPV vaccine protect me for?

We know that the HPV vaccine protects against certain high-risk HPV types for at least 10 years, but modelling suggests protection lasts even longer. Ongoing studies will show exactly how much longer you can expect to be protected for and whether you will need booster shots.

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Will having the HPV vaccine prevent all cases of cervical cancer?

All the HPV vaccines (Gardasil, Cervarix and Gardasil 9) protect against high-risk HPV 16 and 18. These HPV types cause 7 in 10 (70%) cases of cervical cancer. So although the HPV vaccine can’t prevent all cervical cancers, it does protect against the most common HPV types that cause it.

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If I’ve had the HPV vaccine, do I still need to go for cervical screening (a smear test) when invited?

Yes! Even if you have had the HPV vaccine, it is very important to attend cervical screening, so abnormalities caused by other HPV types can be found early.

Cervical screening can also help identify small cell cervical cancer, which the HPV vaccine does not fully protect against.

We have more information about cervical screening.

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What are the HPV vaccines?

Currently, there are three HPV vaccines available in the UK:

  • Gardasil
  • Cervarix
  • Gardasil 9.

Gardasil is used in the NHS vaccination programme. Read more information about the NHS vaccination programme in:

We have more information about the HPV vaccines.

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What are the side effects of the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is very safe. Before any vaccine can be used, clinical trials are done to check things like side effects. Thousands of girls and women of different ages took part in clinical trials for the HPV vaccine. If any side effects are reported, they are usually common ones that may happen after any injection.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is responsible for making sure that vaccines are safe, which includes collecting and reporting on information from healthcare professionals and people who have had the vaccine.

The most commonly reported side effects are:

Very common side effects

More than 1 in 10 people who have the HPV vaccine have:

  • redness, swelling or pain at the injection site – this should get better after a few days
  • a headache, but it should not last long.

Common side effects

More than 1 in 100, but less than 1 in 10, people who have the HPV vaccine have:

  • bruising or itching at the injection site
  • a high temperature or feeling hot and shivery (fever)
  • sickness (nausea)
  • painful arms, hands, fingers, legs feet or toes.

We have more information about any side effects of the HPV vaccine. The NHS website  also has information.

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Can boys and men have the HPV vaccine?

Currently, boys cannot have the HPV vaccine free in schools as part of the NHS vaccination programme. However, heterosexual boys are protected indirectly because of girls being vaccinated (herd immunity).

HPV-related cancers in men are quite rare, although oropharyngeal cancers are becoming more common. They include oral, anal and penile cancer.

Men who have sex with men (MSM) are not protected by female-only vaccination, so MSM can have the HPV vaccine free up to the age of 45. It is available in sexual health clinics across the UK.

In 2018, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises UK health departments on immunisation, recommened that boys should also be offered the HPV vaccine. Departments of health in each UK country will now decide if and when to extend the vaccine to boys.

We have more information about the HPV vaccine for boys and men.

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I’ve been told I have cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer. Can the HPV vaccine help?

Currently, there is no vaccine that can treat cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer.

We have more information about cervical abnormalities and cervical cancer. We also have services, like our Helpline, online forum and online Ask the Expert service who may be able to give you some support.

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If I have or have had HPV, should I get the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine cannot get rid of an HPV infection you already have. However, it does prevent infection with other types of HPV and prevents reinfection with the same type. So if you already have HPV it could still benefit you to have the vaccine.

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I’ve had treatment for abnormalities or cervical cancer. Should I have the HPV vaccine?

If you have had treatment for cervical abnormalities, having the HPV vaccine may lower your risk of new HPV infections and recurrence. More research needs to be done, but it could benefit you to have the HPV vaccine after being treated for abnormalities or cervical cancer.

We have more information about cervical abnormalities and cervical cancer.

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What do you think is the most important message to get across about HPV vaccines?

HPV vaccines have the potential to save lives by reducing:

  • the number of cases of cervical cancer
  • the numbers of cases of other HPV-related cancers
  • the number of women who need treatment for abnormal cervical cells in generations to come.

For women who are already part of the screening programme, the best protection against cervical cancer is to continue going for regular cervical screening. It is essential that all girls who have the HPV vaccine also attend cervical screening when invited.

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Why should I have a vaccine to protect against HPV?

Having the HPV vaccine protects against at least two high-risk types of HPV (16 and 18) that cause about 7 in 10 (70%) of all cervical cancers. Along with going to cervical screening (a smear test) when invited, it is one of the best ways to protect against cervical cancer.

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Can I have the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is free to girls between the ages of:

  • 11 to 17 in Scotland
  • 12 to 17 in the rest of the UK.

The HPV vaccine is offered in schools between 11 and 13 (Scotland) and 12 and 13 (rest of the UK). If you are under 18 and miss it in school, you can have it free at your GP.

If you are 18 or older, you can pay to have the HPV vaccine privately. It is usually available at some pharmacies, travel clinics and other health centres. It costs about £150 per dose. You may also be able to have it at your GP, although you may have to pay an extra administration fee.

We have more information about who can have the HPV vaccine.

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My child is not sexually active. Should they still have the HPV vaccine?

Even if your child or someone you know is not sexually active yet, having the HPV vaccine will protect them against certain HPV types for at least a decade. By that time, they may be sexually active and, if not, having the vaccine won’t cause them any harm.

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What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?

HPV is a common virus that is passed on through skin-to-skin contact. There are over 200 types of HPV.

Most HPV types don’t cause any problems and our immune system gets rid of them – we may not even know we had it. Some low-risk types can cause conditions like genital warts. A few other types, called high-risk HPV, can cause changes to the cells of the cervix (abnormalities), which may develop into cervical cancer.

We have more information about HPV.

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If I already have HPV, should I get the vaccine?

The HPV vaccine cannot get rid of an HPV infection you already have.

However, it does prevent infection with other types of HPV and prevents reinfection with the same type. So if you already have HPV it could still benefit you to have the vaccine.

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If I haven't been sexually active for several years and never had a cervical abnormality, should I get the HPV vaccination as a precautionary measure?

Recent evidence shows that having the HPV vaccine, even after you have had an infection with HPV, offers women protection from both infection with other HPV types and reinfection by the same type in the future. However, the vaccine is only available on the NHS for free until the age of 18. If you are not eligible for the free vaccine you can pay for it privately. Some local chemists are also offering the vaccine. Check with your pharmacist to see if the vaccine is available near you.

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