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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, protects against:

  • HPV types 16 and 18, which cause 7 in 10 (70%) cases of cervical cancer.
  • 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.

Read more 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! If you are female and have had the HPV vaccine, cervical screening is still important. The HPV vaccine protects against 7 in 10 (70%) cases of cervical cancer, so cervical screening helps find any cell changes (abnormal cells) caused by other HPV types. 

Read more 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 womenpeople 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. 

Read more about possible side effects of the HPV vaccine > 

Read about the HPV vaccine on the NHS website >

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Can boys have the HPV vaccine?

Yes. All pupils, including boys, are offered the HPV vaccine free in schools. They can also get it free at the GP until they are 18 years old. 

Read more about the HPV vaccine for boys >

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I’ve been told I have cell changes (abnormal cells) or cervical cancer. Can the HPV vaccine help?

Currently, there is no vaccine that can treat cell changes (abnormal cells) or cervical cancer. But there are other treatments and care that can help - speak with your healthcare team about what is right for you.

Read more about cell changes >

Read more about cervical cancer > 

We also have services, like our Helpline, online forum and online Ask the Expert service that 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 cell changes (abnormal cells) or cervical cancer. Should I have the HPV vaccine?

If you have had treatment for cell changes (abnormal cells) or cervical cancer, 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. Ultimately, it is your choice whether to have the HPV vaccine.

 

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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 cell changes (abnormal cells) in generations to come.

For women who are already part of the screening programme, the best protection against cervical cancer is to go for regular cervical screening (smear tests).

Read more about cervical screening >

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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 people 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.

Read more 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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Why are boys now offered the HPV vaccine?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises UK health departments on immunisation, decided the HPV vaccine should also be offered to boys.

The HPV vaccine will help protect against a number of HPV-related cancers, including head and neck (oropharyngeal) cancers, penile cancer and anal cancer.

Read more about HPV-related cancers >

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Can anyone else have the HPV vaccine for free?