HPV vaccine

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps protect against cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is offered to girls from age 11 years at secondary schools across Scotland. 

This page provides information on the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation that girls can have to help protect themselves against cervical cancer. On this page you can 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 transcripts for 'Together we can fight cervical cancer' (also available in alternative languages). This film is also available with British Sign Language on the NHS Health Scotland YouTube channel.

If you are having problems accessing this film, you can also download a copy [55MB] to your computer. You can access this film by clicking the link or using right click and choosing either 'save target as' or 'save link as'.

The HPV (cervical cancer) vaccine

The HPV (cervical cancer) vaccine helps 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. However, it's normally delivered in the immunisation programme at secondary school.

The vaccine doesn't protect you against all other types of HPV that cause cancer, so you will still need to start going for regular cervical screening (smear tests) when you reach 25 years of age. This combination of immunisation and cervical screening offers the best possible protection against cervical cancer.

HPV immunisation has been on offer in secondary schools in Scotland since 2008. Uptake has always been high - 9 out of 10 girls choose to get the vaccine. Evidence shows the high uptake of the HPV vaccine has helped to reduce the levels of cancer-causing HPV in young women in Scotland by 90%.

The vaccine also helps protect against two other types of HPV that cause about 90% of the cases of genital warts.

You can't get HPV infection from the vaccine.


Questions and answers:


What is HPV and how does it spread?

HPV 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. Most women who become infected with HPV clear the virus from their body but others develop cervical cancer. Having the vaccine is important because we can't predict which women will develop cervical cancer.

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What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer develops in the cervix, the entrance to the uterus (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. It's also the most common cancer in women under 35 years of age in Scotland, and HPV is the main risk factor.

In the UK, around 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. The vaccine is offered in two or three doses over a period of 12 months, depending on the age of when you receive the first dose. Most girls will only need two doses of the vaccine.

If you receive your first dose before you turn 15 years old, you will only need two doses of the HPV vaccine. You will be offered the second dose at least six months after the first.

If you receive your first dose after you turn 15 years old, you will need three doses of the vaccine. You will be offered the second dose at least one month after the first dose. You will be offered the thrid dose at least three months after the second dose.

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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 and return it to school even if you aren't going to have the vaccine.

We recommend you get agreement from your parent or carer, but it isn't always necessary. More information on young people's right to consent is available at www.nhsinform.scot/consentunder16 (external link).

If you or your parents or carer 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 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 couple of days. 

Less common side effects are headaches, nausea and fever (high temperature). If you feel unwell after the immunisation, take paracetamol or ibuprofen. Read the instructions on the packet carefully and take the correct dose for your age. We don't recommend that you take these medicines in advance to prevent a fever from happening.

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

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. It has been given safely to tens of millions of people worldwide, and used in Scotland since 2012.

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

Manufacturer's safety information can be found in the Gardasil Patient Information Leaflet (external website). This will be given to you when you receive your vaccine.

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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 25 years of age.

You can download A Smear Test Could Save Your Life 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 immunisations.

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, the level of protection against HPV will be raised because there will be fewer viruses circulating.


Where can I get more information?

For more information download the HPV vaccine Help protect yourself against cervical cancer papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine guide.

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Last reviewed on 14 November 2017

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