VaccinationsHPV vaccine

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From September 2019, all 12- and 13-year-olds in school Year 8 will be offered on the NHS the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

It helps protect against cancers caused by HPV, including:

It also helps protect against genital warts.

In England, girls and boys aged 12 to 13 years will be routinely offered the first HPV vaccination when they're in school Year 8.

The second dose is normally offered 6 to 12 months after the first (in school Year 8 or Year 9).

It's important to have both doses to be protected.

Those who missed their HPV vaccination in school Year 8 can continue to have the vaccine up to their 25th birthday.

What is HPV?

HPV is the name given to a very common group of viruses.

There are many types of HPV, some of which are called "high risk" because they're linked to the development of cancers, such as cervical cancer, anal cancer, genital cancers, and cancers of the head and neck.

Other types can cause conditions like warts or verrucas.

Nearly all cervical cancers (99.7%) are caused by infection with a high-risk type of HPV.

But only some of the anal and genital cancers, and cancers of the head and neck, are caused by HPV infection.

The rest of these cancers are caused by other risk factors like smoking and drinking alcohol.

HPV infections do not usually cause any symptoms, and most people will not know they're infected.

Find out more about HPV

What are the different types of HPV and what do they do?

There are more than 100 different types of HPV, and around 40 that affect the genital area.

HPV is very common and can be caught through any kind of sexual contact with another person who already has it.

Most people will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives and their bodies will get rid of it naturally without treatment.

But some people infected with a high-risk type of HPV will not be able to clear it.

Over time, this can cause abnormal tissue growth as well as other changes, which can lead to cancer if not treated.

High-risk types of HPV are linked to different types of cancer, including:

Infection with other types of HPV may cause:

  • genital warts – small growths or skin changes on or around the genital or anal area; they're the most common viral sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the UK 
  • skin warts and verrucas – not on the genital area
  • warts on the voice box or vocal cords (laryngeal papillomas)

How does the HPV vaccine work?

Currently, the national NHS HPV vaccination programme uses a vaccine called Gardasil.

Gardasil protects against 4 types of HPV: 6, 11, 16 and 18. Between them, types 16 and 18 are the cause of most cervical cancers in the UK (more than 70%).

These types of HPV also cause some anal and genital cancers, and some cancers of the head and neck.

HPV types 6 and 11 cause around 90% of genital warts, so using Gardasil helps protect girls against both cervical cancer and genital warts.

HPV vaccination does not protect against other infections spread during sex, such as chlamydia, and it will not stop girls getting pregnant, so it's still very important to practise safe sex.

Who can have the HPV vaccine through the NHS vaccination programme?

From September 2019, the first dose of the HPV vaccine will be routinely offered to girls and boys aged 12 and 13 in school Year 8.

The second dose is normally offered 6 to 12 months after the first (in school Year 8 or Year 9).

People who miss either of their HPV vaccine doses should speak to their school immunisation team or GP surgery and make an appointment to get up-to-date as soon as possible.

It's important to have both doses of the vaccine to be fully protected.

People who were eligible for HPV vaccination in school Year 8 but who missed it can still be vaccinated on the NHS up to their 25th birthday.

People who start the HPV vaccination after the age of 15 will need 3 doses as they do not respond as well to 2 doses as younger people do.

Find out more about who can have the HPV vaccine

Read more about HPV vaccination safety and the possible side effects.

How is the HPV vaccination programme changing?

In July 2018, it was announced that the HPV vaccine would be extended to boys aged 12 to 13 years in England.

This decision was based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the independent body that advises UK health departments on immunisation.

From the 2019-20 school year, 12- to 13-year-old boys and girls in school Year 8 will both be eligible for the HPV vaccine.

This extension of the HPV vaccination programme will help prevent more cases of HPV-related cancers in boys and girls, such as head and neck cancers and anal and genital cancers.

A catch-up programme for older boys is not necessary as evidence suggests they're already benefitting greatly from the indirect protection (known as herd protection) that's built up from 10 years of the girls' HPV vaccination programme.

The priority is to make sure that as many eligible boys and girls as possible are offered protection against HPV infection from the 2019-20 school year.

Why is the HPV vaccine given at such a young age?

HPV infections can be spread by any skin-to-skin contact and are usually found on the fingers, hands, mouth and genitals.

This means the virus can be spread during any kind of sexual activity, including touching.

The HPV vaccine works best if girls and boys get it before they come into contact with HPV (in other words, before they become sexually active).

So getting the vaccine when recommended will help protect them during their teenage years and beyond.

Most unvaccinated people will be infected with some type of HPV at some time in their life.

In most cases, the virus does not do any harm because their immune system clears the infection.

But in some cases the infection stays in the body for many years and then, for no apparent reason, it may start to cause damage.

HPV vaccination for men who have sex with men (MSM)

Men who have sex with men (MSM) have not benefited in the same way from the longstanding girls' programme, so may be left unprotected against HPV.

From April 2018, MSM up to and including the age of 45 became eligible for free HPV vaccination on the NHS when they visit sexual health clinics and HIV clinics in England.

Ask the doctor or nurse at the clinic for more details.

Find out more about HPV vaccination for MSM in this NHS leaflet (PDF, 93kb)

HPV vaccination for transgender people

Trans women (people who were assigned male at birth) are eligible in the same way as MSM if their risk of getting HPV is similar to the risk of MSM who are eligible for the HPV vaccine.

Trans men (people who were assigned female at birth) are eligible if they have sex with other men and are aged 45 or under.

If trans men have previously completed a course of HPV vaccination as part of the girls' HPV vaccine programme, no further doses are needed.

How is the HPV vaccine given?

The HPV vaccine is currently given as a series of 2 injections into the upper arm.

They're spaced at least 6 months apart, and people who missed their HPV vaccination offered in school Year 8 can get the vaccine for free up to their 25th birthday.

It's important to have both vaccine doses to be protected.

People who get their first vaccination dose at the age of 15 or older will need to have 3 injections.

Men who have sex with men (MSM), and trans men and trans women who are eligible for the vaccine, will need 3 vaccination doses (2 if they're under 15).

For those who need 3 doses of the vaccine:

  • the second dose should be given at least 1 month after the first
  • the third dose should be given ideally within 12 months of the second dose

It's important to have all vaccine doses to be properly protected.

Find out more about how the HPV vaccine is given

How long does the HPV vaccine protect for?

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.

Find out more about the safety of the HPV vaccine

Find out more about HPV vaccination in this NHS leaflet (PDF, 157kb)

You can also read more about the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Page last reviewed: 26/03/2019
Next review due: 26/03/2022