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Having the HPV vaccine in school

The HPV vaccine is offered to girls and boys aged 11 to 13 as part of the NHS vaccination programme. It is given as an injection (jab or jag) into the upper arm.

The information on this page is for young people and their parents and guardians. It may be useful to use this to start a conversation about the HPV vaccine and ask any questions you have. We have another page about having the HPV vaccine privately as an adult.

Read about having the HPV vaccine privately >

On this page:

Which HPV vaccine is offered in school?

The HPV vaccine offered in schools is called Gardasil. It protects against HPV types:

  • 16 and 18 – high-risk types that are thought to be linked to about 7 in 10 (70%) cervical cancers
  • 6 and 11 – low-risk types that are thought to be linked to about 9 in 10 (90%) cases of genital warts.

Read more about HPV >

Across the UK, the HPV vaccine called Gardasil 9 will start to be used at some point in the 2022-23 school year.

Read about the different HPV vaccines >

Who can have the HPV vaccine in school?

The HPV vaccine is offered free to girls and boys in schools. 

It has been offered to girls since September 2008. It has been offered to both girls and boys since September 2019. This is because the evidence shows that the HPV vaccine helps protect both girls and boys from HPV-related conditions and cancers.

What age is the HPV vaccine offered in school?

In schools, the HPV vaccine is offered to:

  • girls and boys aged 11 to 12 in Scotland
  • girls and boys aged 12 to 13 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This is usually school year 8 in England and Wales, S1 in Scotland, and school year 9 in Northern Ireland. 

How many doses of the HPV vaccine will I have?

A dose is a measured amount of something – in this case, the HPV vaccine. The number of HPV vaccine doses you have depends on your age. 

The HPV vaccine works best before you are exposed to HPV. As you get older, your response to the vaccine is not as good, so you have more doses to make sure it works as well as possible.

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales 

You should have 2 doses in total. You will be able to have your second dose after 6 months. Normally you will complete your doses within 24 months of the first dose.

In Scotland

Age 14 or under

You’ll be offered 2 doses in total. The first dose is offered to all pupils in S1 at secondary school. The second dose is usually offered in S2. You will be able to have your second dose after 6 months. Normally you will complete your doses within 24 months of the first dose. 

Age 15 or over

If you have your first dose of the HPV vaccine when you are age 15 or over, you’ll be offered 3 doses in total. You'll be offered these doses within 6 months of each other. You usually have:

  • the second dose at least 1 month after the first dose
  • the third dose at least 3 months after the second dose.

Who shouldn’t have the HPV vaccine?

Most people will be able to have the HPV vaccine. You should not have the HPV vaccine if:

  • you had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the HPV vaccine
  • you had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient of the vaccine
  • you are pregnant. 

If you feel unwell or have a high temperature on the day you are having the HPV vaccine, you should have it on another day instead. This is to avoid confusing the illness with any side effects of the vaccine. 

If you are unsure about whether you or a child should have the HPV vaccine, it is best to speak with the school nurse, or a nurse or doctor at your GP surgery. 

What happens if I miss the HPV vaccine in school?

If you miss the vaccination day, talk to your school. They may be able to invite you to the next vaccination day. 

If you are no longer able to have the HPV vaccine in school, you can have it free at your GP surgery up to age 25 in England, Scotland and Wales. This applies to:

  • girls who were in year 8 (England and Wales), S1 (Scotland), or year 9 (Northern Ireland) in September 2008.
  • boys who were in year 8 (England and Wales), S1 (Scotland), or year 9 (Northern Ireland) in September 2019. 

You can contact your GP surgery directly about having the HPV vaccine.

Paying for the HPV vaccine

If you are not eligible to have the HPV vaccine for free, you can pay to have it privately.

Read more about paying for the HPV vaccine >

The HPV vaccine and coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 has meant many schools have been closed for different amounts of time. This means the school vaccination programme, which the HPV vaccine is part of, has been disrupted. You may not have been offered the HPV vaccine yet or only had the first dose. 

The UK government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation have said that the priority is for every eligible girl and boy to have the first dose of the HPV vaccine. 

Having the HPV vaccine in school FAQs

You should have been given a consent form and leaflet by your school. Your parent or guardian is asked to sign the consent form, but you can do it yourself. It’s a good idea to read and talk about the information with someone you trust before making a decision about having the HPV vaccine. 

Once your consent form has been signed, you will be asked to return it to your school, even if you aren't going to have the vaccine.

We know lots of people get nervous about injections, so you aren’t alone in feeling that way. It may help to know that the injection is over quickly. Here are some tips that might help:

  • Talk to the school nurse or a teacher, so they can give you some extra support.
  • Ask to have a friend with you for some support.
  • Ask to have the HPV vaccine early in the day, so you don’t have to wait for a long time.
  • Have a bottle of water with you and take regular, small sips.

You should also sit down for about 15 minutes after having the HPV vaccine. This gives the school nurse a chance to check that you feel okay. 

The HPV vaccine is offered in schools at a young age because:

  • the immune response to the vaccine is stronger when people are younger 
  • it is more effective before someone is exposed to HPV through sexual activity. 

Some parents and guardians are worried that their child is more likely to become sexually active if they have the HPV vaccine. There is no evidence that this happens.

Since September 2019, boys have been offered the HPV vaccine in schools at the same time as girls. By offering boys the HPV vaccine before exposure to the virus, it will help to protect them against genital warts and some cancers, including anal and penile cancers.

Some men, including men who have sex with men, may be able to have the HPV vaccine for free. Older boys and men can also pay to have the HPV vaccine privately.

Read about paying for the HPV vaccine >

A ‘catch up programme’ is would offer the HPV vaccine to all boys between a certain age – for example, 13 and 18 – who have missed having the vaccine. This was done for girls when the HPV vaccination programme started in 2008.

The evidence suggests an HPV catch up programme for older boys is not needed, as they are already benefiting from the indirect protection (known as herd protection) that has built up from 10 years of the girls' HPV vaccination programme. Because of this, the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) has not recommended a catch up programme for boys.

The HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against all types of HPV, although it does protect against the types that are thought to cause about 7 in 10 (70%) cervical cancers.

This is why cervical screening is an important test even if you have had the HPV vaccine. It can detect HPV and any changes early, so you can get the right care.

If you miss having a dose of the HPV vaccine, you can get it later. Although it is best to follow the recommended schedule, the guidance says you can resume having doses but shouldn’t repeat any you have already had.

How we can help

You may want more support to help you decide whether to have the HPV vaccine. The NHS in your area has more information that may help:

If you are a parent or guardian, our trained Helpline volunteers can talk the HPV vaccine through with you on 0808 802 8000 or by email. 

Email our Helpline >

If you are a parent or guardian, our panel of experts can also answer general questions about the HPV vaccine. They can’t give you answers about someone's individual situation or health – it’s best to speak with the school nurse or GP for that.

Use our Ask the Expert service >

Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.

References

  • Falcaro, M. et al (2021). The effects of the national HPV vaccination programme in England, UK, on cervical cancer and grade 3 cervical intraepithelial neoplasia incidence: a register-based observational study. The Lancet. 398;10313.
  • Palmer, T. et al (2019). Prevalence of cervical disease at age 20 after immunisation with bivalent HPV vaccine at age 12-13 in Scotland: retrospective population study. BMJ. 365;8194. pp.1-9.
  • Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (2020). Delivering HPV vaccination during COVID-19. Web: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/delivery-of-the-hpv-vaccine-and-impact-of-school-closures-statement-from-the-jcvi/joint-committee-on-vaccination-and-immunisation-statement-on-the-delivery-of-the-hpv-vaccine#fn:1. Accessed October 2020. 
  • Lord, J. et al (2013). The effect of aging of the immune system on vaccination responses. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics. 9;6. pp.1364-1367.
  • Coles, V. et al (2014). The association of human papillomavirus vaccination with sexual behaviours and human papillomavirus knowledge: a systematic review. International Journal of STD & AIDS. 26;11. pp.777-788.
  • Petrosky, E. Y. et al (2017). Human Papillomavirus Vaccination and Age at First Sexual Activity, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Clinical Pediatrics. 56;4. pp.363-370.
  • Gov.uk (2019). Greenbook Chapter 18a. Human papillomavirus (HPV).

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

Are you a parent or guardian?

If you have questions or concerns about the HPV vaccine, call our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000 or email us.

Email our Helpline
Date last updated: 
05 Apr 2022
Date due for review: 
05 Apr 2023
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