HPV vaccine

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for girls aged 12 to 13 years helps protect against cervical cancer.

This page provides information on the Human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation programme which helps to protect against cervical cancer. On this page you can watch the HPV film, download the information guide for girls and their parents/carers, and find out more information about the HPV immunisation programme in the Questions and Answers section.


Read the transcript for 'Together we can fight cervical cancer'. This film is also available with British Sign Language.

The HPV vaccine

The HPV (cervical cancer) vaccine is designed to protect against the two types of HPV that cause 75% of the cases of cervical cancer. It is important that you get this protection early enough for it to be effective. The vaccine can be given any time from 9 years of age upwards. Most girls may not become exposed to the virus until their late teenage years but the vaccine works best when it is given earlier to provide long-term protection. It is, therefore, important to have all the required doses as soon as they are offered at secondary school.

The vaccine does not protect you against all other types of HPV, so you will still need to start going for regular cervical screening (smear tests) when you reach the appropriate age. This combination of immunisation and cervical screening offers the best possible protection against cervical cancer.

You cannot get HPV infection from the vaccine.


Questions and answers:


What is HPV and how does it spread?

The HPV virus is very common and you can catch it through intimate sexual contact with another person who already has it. Because it is so common, most people will get infected at some point in their life. People are often infected without knowing it as there are usually no symptoms. In most women the virus does not cause cervical cancer, but having the vaccine is important because we do not know who is at risk.

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What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer develops in the cervix, the entrance to the womb (see diagram below). It is caused by a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Cervical cancer can be very serious. After breast cancer, it is the most common women’s cancer in the world. In the UK, around 3,000 cases of it are diagnosed every year and about 1,000 women die from it.

Diagram of female body showing reproductive system and the location of the

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How will I get vaccinated?

You will be informed by your school when your immunisation is due. The nurse will give you the injection in your upper arm.

Up until 2014, all girls required three doses of the HPV vaccine. New guidance on the vaccine means that you now only need two doses to get the best protection as long as you get your first dose before you turn 15. You will be offered the second dose at least six months after the first dose.

If you receive your first dose after you turn 15, you will still need three doses. You will be offered the second dose at least one month after the first dose and the third dose at least three months after the second dose.

If your immune system is weakened due to any disease or treatment you will also need to have three doses, regardless of your age.

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What type of consent do I need in order to receive the HPV immunisation?

You should have been given a consent form with this leaflet. You and your parents, or carer, should discuss the information in this leaflet before agreeing to have the immunisation. When you are given this consent form, your parents are being asked to sign it.

Parental agreement is always advised, although it is not always necessary. If you or your parents have any questions about having the immunisation, speak to your nurse first if you can, or your doctor.


Does the immunisation protect me from other sexually transmitted infections?

The HPV (cervical cancer) vaccine is designed to protect you against the two types of HPV that cause 75% of the cases of cervical cancer. The vaccine also protects against two other types of HPV that cause about 90% of the cases of genital warts. However, having this immunisation won't protect you against any other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as Chlamydia.

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Are there any side effects?

The common side effects of the HPV immunisation are quite mild – mostly felt around the area of the arm where you have had the injection. (soreness, swelling, redness or mild itching). If you do experience any of these side effects they will wear off after a few days.

Less common side effects are headaches, nausea (feeling sick) and fever (high temperature).

If you feel unwell after the immunisation, take paracetemol or ibuprofen. Read the instructions on the packet carefully and take the correct dose for your age. If necessary take a second dose four to six hours later. If you still feel unwell after the second dose, speak to your GP or call NHS 24 on 111 (freephone).

It is not recommended that you take these medicines in anticipation of, or to prevent, a fever. Remember if you are under 16 you should not take medicine that contains aspirin.

Some people have an allergic reaction soon after immunisation. This reaction may be a rash or itching affecting part or all of the body. The nurse will be able to advise on this.

This information is to be used as a guide only. If you feel very unwell you should seek advice from your GP or call NHS 24 on 111 (freephone).

Very rarely, some people can have a severe reaction soon after immunisation, which causes breathing difficulties and may cause them to collapse. This is called an anaphylactic reaction. These reactions are extremely rare and nurses are fully trained to deal with them.

The vaccine meets the high safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. Clinical trials with thousands of young women have shown that the vaccine is very safe.

The Gardasil Patient Information Leaflet (external website) will be given to you when you receive your vaccine.

Read more about the common side effects of immunisations that might occur in teenagers.

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I missed my immunisation, can I still have it?

It is important that you have all the required doses to get the best protection. If you miss the immunisation session in school, you will be recalled to the next one.

The most important thing is to have all the required doses as soon as they are offered at school – it’s never too late to catch up.

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Now I’ve had the immunisation, will I still need to go for a cervical screening test?

The vaccine does not protect you against all other types of HPV, so you will still need to start going for regular cervical screening (smear test) when you reach the appropriate age.

You can download The Cervical Screening Test: Your first test to find out more about what to expect.

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Should girls who have already had sex bother with the vaccination?

Definitely. If you’ve had sex, and are in the relevant age group, you should still have the vaccine.

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What about girls who have allergies or other illnesses, can they still have their HPV immunisation?

Yes, food intolerance, asthma, eczema, hay fever and allergies generally do not prevent someone from having this vaccine. If you have any concerns about this, speak to your nurse or doctor.

Very rarely, some people have an allergic reaction soon after immunisation. This reaction may be a rash or itching affecting part or all of the body. The nurse will know how to treat this. It is not a reason to withhold further HPV vaccinations.

Very rarely, some people can have a severe reaction soon after immunisation, which causes breathing difficulties and may cause them to collapse. This is called an anaphylactic reaction. These reactions are extremely rare and nurses are fully trained to deal with them.


What about girls with long term conditions or those on medication that reduces the effectiveness of their immune system?

Girls whose immune systems are affected through medication or long-term conditions can have the vaccine, but it may not work as well for them.


Why aren't boys being given the HPV immunisation?

The priority is to protect girls against cervical cancer. Boys can’t develop cervical cancer. By immunising girls, everyone’s level of protection against HPV will be raised – boys’ as well as girls’ – because there will be fewer viruses circulating.


Where can I get more information?

For more information watch the HPV film or view the HPV publication which contains important information about the Human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation, and may answer any important questions that you may have about receiving the vaccine.

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Last reviewed on 06 June 2014