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About the HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine (jab or jag) protects against some types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause cancer and other conditions like genital warts. It is offered free in schools and is also available privately.  

On this page:

What is HPV?

HPV is a common virus that most people will have at some point in their life. There are over 200 types that can be split into low risk and high risk. 

Low-risk HPV either causes no problems or conditions that are not serious, such as genital warts. High-risk HPV is linked to about 0.5 in 10 (5%) of all cancers, including almost all cervical cancers. 

This may sound worrying, but it’s important to remember that 9 in 10 (90%) people will get rid of any type of HPV within 2 years.

Read more about HPV >

Which HPV vaccines are available?

There are 3 HPV vaccines used in the UK.

  • Protects against high-risk HPV 16 and 18.
  • Protects against low-risk HPV 6 and 11.
  • Offered free in schools to girls and boys aged 11 to 13.
  • Offered free in GP surgeries, sexual health and other clinics for some people.
  • Available privately.
  • Protects against high-risk HPV 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58.
  • Protects against low-risk HPV 6 and 11.
  • Available privately.
  • Protects against high-risk HPV 16 and 18.
  • Available privately.

How does the HPV vaccine work?

The HPV vaccine contains individual viral-like proteins that copy (imitate) different types of HPV. 

These are not a live HPV virus, but still produce an immune response (antibodies) when injected into the body. This means that, if you were to get these types of HPV in future, these antibodies would bind to the virus and stop it infecting cells. 

What does the HPV vaccine protect against?

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

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

Read about having the HPV vaccine in school >

How effective is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is effective at protecting against some types of HPV, reducing cervical cell changes (abnormal cells), and reducing some cancers including cervical cancer.

Does the HPV vaccine prevent cervical cell changes?

A study in Scotland found diagnoses of cervical cell changes decreased by 89% in people who have had the HPV vaccine. This includes the cell changes called CIN1, CIN2 and CIN3. This research looked at girls and women aged 15 to 26. 

Another study in England found that, for women who had the vaccine in their teens, there were about 17,200 fewer diagnoses of high-grade cervical cell changes (CIN3) in their 20s.

Read more about cell changes >

Does the HPV vaccine prevent cervical cancer?

We still need more, long-term research to fully understand the impact of the HPV vaccine on cervical cancer. However, a study in England has looked at the first HPV vaccine called Cervarix, which was used between 2008 and 2012. It protects against 2 types of HPV that, together, are thought to cause around 7 in 10 (70%) cervical cancers. 

The study found that women who were vaccinated in their teens have had about 450 fewer diagnoses of cervical cancer. This means the incidence of cervical cancer has decreased by 87% in women in their 20s.

Read our blog about the HPV vaccine’s impact >

Cross-protection with other HPV types

Research suggests that the HPV vaccine provides cross-protection against other types of HPV. Cross-protection means it protects against more HPV types than the ones included in the vaccine. 

How long does the HPV vaccine last?

Research has proven that the HPV vaccine lasts for at least 11 years. We have only been able to measure this far because, in the UK, the HPV vaccine started to be offered in 2008. It is expected that the protection will last even longer and there is research happening to find this out. 

That research will help us understand whether people need to have extra doses (boosters) of the HPV vaccine in future.

HPV vaccine FAQs

The HPV vaccine used in schools is called Gardasil. As well as individual proteins from HPV types 16, 18, 6 and 11, Gardasil also has small amounts of:

  • aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate – helps to produce a stronger, longer response to the vaccine
  • polysorbate 80 – an emulsifier, which means it holds the other ingredients together
  • histidine – an acidity regulator, which means it helps keep certain ingredients at the right level
  • sodium chloride – salt
  • sodium borate (borax) – an acidity regulator
  • water.

Gardasil and its ingredients have been tested and found to be safe.

Read more about HPV vaccine safety and side effects >

The HPV vaccine cannot get rid of HPV you already have. It is used to prevent HPV, which means it can stop you from getting certain types.

The HPV vaccine cannot cure or treat conditions caused by HPV, including:

  • genital warts caused by low-risk HPV types
  • cervical cell changes or cancer caused by high-risk HPV types.

You can get treatment for genital warts at a sexual health clinic. If you have cervical cell changes or cervical cancer, your healthcare team can explain any treatment you need.

The HPV vaccine does not protect you against all types of HPV, so cervical screening is still important even if you have had the vaccine. Going for cervical screening when invited can help find high-risk HPV or changes to cervical cells (abnormal cells) early, before they develop. 

Read more about cervical screening >

How we can help

We know that HPV, and the HPV vaccine, can be confusing. If you have questions, we’re here to help answer them. Our trained Helpline volunteers can talk things through with you on 0808 802 8000

Email our Helpline > 

If you have general questions about the HPV vaccine, our panel of medical experts may be able to help. They can’t give you answers about your individual situation or health – it’s best to speak with your GP or nurse for that.

Use our Ask the Expert service >

You can also chat with others about the HPV vaccine on our Forum.

Join our Forum >

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.
  • Arbyn, M. et al (2018). Prophylactic vaccination against human papillomaviruses to prevent cervical cancer and its precursors. Cochrane Systematic Review – Intervention. 
  • Lehtinen, M. et al (2017). Ten-year follow-up of human papillomavirus vaccine efficacy against the most stringent cervical neoplasia end-point—registry-based follow-up of three cohorts from randomized trials. BMJ Open. 7;8. e015867.
  • Ferris, D. et al (2017). 4-Valent Human Papillomavirus (4vHPV) Vaccine in Preadolescents and Adolescents After 10 Years. Pediatrics. 140;6. e20163947.
  • Gilca, V. et al (2015). The effect of a booster dose of quadrivalent or bivalent HPV vaccine when administered to girls previously vaccinated with two doses of quadrivalent HPV vaccine. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics. 11;3. pp.732-738.
  • Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited (2019). Gardasil Patient Information Leaflet. Web: https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/medicine/19033#gref. Accessed October 2020. 

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 >

HPV >

Understand what HPV is and how it is linked to cell changes and cervical cancer.

Call or email our Helpline

If you have questions, concerns or just need to talk, we are here for you. Call our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000 or email us.

Email our Helpline
Date last updated: 
16 Dec 2021
Date due for review: 
16 Dec 2024
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