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Behind the headlines: One dose of the HPV vaccination

Posted on: Wednesday, 10th August 2022 by Eluned Hughes, Head of Information and Engagement

Note: this blog was originally published on 10th August 2022 and updated on 20th June 2023 to include the latest announcements.

Last year it was announced that the HPV vaccination programme given in schools across the UK will move to a one dose schedule instead of two doses for routine vaccinations. Countries across the UK are making their own plans to move and Scotland was the first country to start the new one dose programme. Today it has been announced that England will be changing its vaccination programme from September. So what does this mean?

Let’s go back to the beginning. 

What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine (jab or jag) protects against some types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause cancers, and other conditions like genital warts. It is offered free in schools to girls and boys aged 11 to 13 and is also available privately. 

Since the vaccine was introduced in 2008 for girls uptake has been relatively high and it has been steadily increasing for boys since they started being offered it in 2019. Recent research shows a reduction of cervical cancer diagnoses by 87% in women in their 20s in England as a result of the vaccine which is fantastic news!

How has it previously been given?

Before in UK countries, two doses of the HPV vaccine were offered in schools to pupils between the ages of 11 and 15. The time between doses would vary depending on your age. 

If you had received your first vaccine after the age of 15, had HIV, were  on antiretroviral therapy, or were immunocompromised you would have needed  3 doses within 6 months.

Find out more about the HPV vaccination >

So what’s changing?

Following recommendation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), the routine immunisation programme for 12 and 13 year olds in Years 8 and 9 will change to one dose of the vaccine from 1 September 2023 in England and Wales.

The programme will also change for men who have sex with men (MSM). The programme will remain the same for those who are immunosuppressed and those who are HIV positive. JCVI’s statement from August 2022 advised the following schedules:

  • A one dose schedule for the routine adolescent programme and MSM programme before the 25th birthday
  • A 2-dose schedule from the age of 25 in the MSM programme
  • A 3-dose schedule for individuals who are immunosuppressed and those known to be HIV-positive

Read the full JCVI recommendation >

Health is a devolved issue in the UK. This means that each country decides how programmes will run. This announcement affects the HPV vaccination programme in England and Wales only.

In Scotland, a one dose schedule is already routinely offered to S1 pupils in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, a 2-dose schedule is still offered.

Why is this changing? 

The JCVI, has been conducting a review looking at the evidence around the number of doses of the vaccine that are needed. They’ve been consulting with a wide range of stakeholders and looking at the evidence from studies across the world. They have said they are confident that one dose of the HPV vaccination is as effective as two at preventing HPV infection for under 25s and lasts as long. The WHO’s expert advisory group on immunisation (SAGE) have also made the same assessment. 

Read SAGE's assessment here > 

Is this safe? 

The JCVI have reviewed a wide range of studies from across the world and the data on which the recommendation is being made is very positive. There are very large-scale pieces of research which are ongoing and SAGE’s review concluded that “a single-dose Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine delivers solid protection against HPV that is comparable to 2-dose schedules .”

Ongoing reviews and developments of vaccination programmes are normal, and the move to a more effective 9-dose valent vaccine (Gardasil 9) means we are hopeful that developments and improvements bring us even closer to the day when cervical cancer is a thing of the past.

When responding to a consultation on this change we highlighted the importance of communicating these changes clearly, and ensuring that the programme had recovered from the disruptions it faced during the height of the pandemic. 

It is really important that changes to programmes are communicated clearly so that the reasons behind the changes are understood. We have strong evidence of the vaccine preventing cervical cancer and this is something we must continue to shout about so that trust and uptake stay high. 

One concern we do have is that fewer doses could reduce the opportunities that those who miss their vaccine have to get it. Ample opportunities and reminders are essential to make sure as many people as possible can have their vaccination, this includes those who do not attend school. 

What does this mean for me?

This change will not take place until at least the academic year of 2023-24. In the meantime it is important to follow the current NHS guidance on vaccinations and on cervical screening. 

Whether you have received the HPV vaccine or not, it is still important to attend your cervical screening (smear test) appointment when invited. While cervical cancer is rare, alongside vaccines cervical screening remains the best way to prevent cervical cancer – preventing 7 in 10 incidences of the disease. 

Questions?

If you have further questions about your own, or your child’s vaccination schedule then your GP or child’s school vaccination team will be able to help. Our support services are also here for you >

Categories: hpv vaccine

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