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Attitudes towards the HPV vaccine

This information is for clinical and non-clinical professionals working in immunisation or cervical health. It covers attitudes to the HPV vaccine and how to answer some common concerns. 

Generally, there’s been good uptake of the HPV vaccine in the UK. But there’s still lots of misinformation that may get in the way of vaccine uptake. It can be helpful to understand some of the myths and misunderstandings so you can support people to make decisions based on accurate information. 

On this page:

Current uptake in the UK

Uptake of the HPV vaccine is high in the UK. Please note that the following statistics are from different data sources that use different time ranges to record uptake:

  • In England, over 83% of adolescent girls had both doses of the HPV vaccine in 2018/19 (data collection year end August 2019). In 2019/20, figures dipped to around 59% due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In Scotland, over 85% of adolescent girls had both doses of the HPV vaccine in 2018/19 (data collection year end unknown).
  • In Wales, over 83% of adolescent girls had both doses of the HPV vaccine in 2019/20 (data collection year end in March 2020). 
  • In Northern Ireland, around 82% of adolescent girls had both doses of the HPV vaccine in 2018/19 (data collection year end in August 2019). 

While these figures are promising, it still means some young people aren’t getting the protection they could have from cervical cancer, even without taking the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic into account.

Negative attitudes to vaccines

Unfortunately, there’s a current trend towards mistrust in vaccines generally. This can have a hugely detrimental effect. In Japan, uptake of the HPV vaccine fell from over 70% uptake in 2013 to current rates of less than 1% after some inaccurate stories about serious side effects appeared in the media. This crisis has already been linked to at least 5,000 unnecessary cervical cancer deaths in Japan. 

HPV vaccine concerns

Parents and guardians who are worried about the vaccine are concerned for their child’s wellbeing but may be poorly informed. So it’s important to be aware of the beliefs they may hold. What’s key is to encourage them to talk about their concerns, and listen. This will help you understand their worries so you can respond to them. 

Parents and guardians may have heard rumours from other people or might have read scare stories on social media. You could stress the importance of using reliable sources of information. Always direct parents and guardians towards reputable sources of information about HPV and the vaccine, such as our information for the public or the NHS website. 

Meanwhile, here are 3 common concerns and some suggestions for responding to them. 

Vaccine safety

Most people aren’t aware how much work goes into ensuring every vaccine is safe. You could explain vaccines are tested for many years before they’re introduced to the public. They’re also monitored for side effects on an ongoing basis. Many thousands of young people around the world have now safely had the HPV vaccine.

Vaccine side effects

If parents, guardians, children or anyone having the vaccine has heard about adverse side effects, you can help reassure them. You could remind the parent anti-vaccine stories are often spread on social media and may not be based in real evidence. It may also be helpful to encourage parents to think about the very real risk of HPV and cervical cancer. This may help them weigh up the benefits of the vaccine against their concerns.

HPV vaccine and sexual activity

This may be a particular concern in more conservative groups. Some parents and guardians may even worry having the vaccine gives their child ‘permission’ to have sex. You could explain the vaccine is given early so a young person is fully protected a long time before they think about becoming sexually active. If and when they do decide to start having sex - even if that’s many years away - they will be protected. You could remind the parent or guardian that the vaccine is a very effective way to reduce their child’s risk of cancer in the future. Research has shown that a girl who has the vaccine before the age of 17 reduces her chances of developing cervical cancer by 88%. 

Useful resources

COVID-19 and the HPV vaccine >

Find out what the impact has been. 

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Date last updated: 
05 Feb 2021
Date due for review: 
01 Feb 2024
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