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The HPV vaccine jab: 10 frequently asked questions

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

The HPV vaccine is offered to all girls aged 12 to 13 as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. It is usually given at school.

Is this vaccine safe? What are the HPV vaccine side effects? Read our FAQs.

1. Why is the HPV jab given?

The HPV vaccination is designed to protect again several types of the human papillomavirus or HPV.

HPV and the genital warts it can cause are among the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK.

An untreated HPV infection can also lead to cervical cancer.

2. How does the HPV vaccine help?

The current vaccine used by the NHS is called Gardasil. It protects against the types of HPV responsible for more than 70% of cervical cancers as well as giving protection against genital warts.

3. How long does the vaccine last?

The NHS says the latest evidence suggests that the HPV vaccine gives protection for at least 7 years.

4. Why should girls receive the HPV vaccine?

Full benefit of the HPV vaccine occurs only if you receive it before you're infected with one of the HPV strains included in the vaccine. That's why the government recommends vaccinating girls before they become sexually active.

5. How is the HPV vaccine given?

Since September 2014, the vaccination schedule has been two doses, with the second dose given a minimum of six months after the first. The maximum time between the first and second dose is 24 months, but the second dose will usually be given a year after the first.

6. Are there side effects from the HPV vaccine?

In more than 1 in 10 cases, the Gardasil HPV vaccine causes discomfort at the injection site, including redness, bruising, itching, swelling, pain or cellulitis.

Headaches are also very common.

Less common side effects in more than 1 in 100 cases include fever, nausea, painful arms, hands, legs or feet.

Rare side effects (around one in 10,000) include an itchy red rash, and very rare side effects (fewer than one in 10,000) restriction of the airways or difficulty breathing.

Seek medical advice if you have concerns about a girl's health after vaccination.

7. Who shouldn’t have the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine should not be given to anyone who is at risk of having an anaphylactic reaction (severe allergic reaction) to any of the ingredients. Vaccination should also be put off to another time if someone has a fever, but a mild cold is OK.

8. Does vaccination encourage sexual activity?

You can explain that the HPV vaccine is a cervical cancer vaccine. Gardasil protects against some types of HPV that lead to cancer and some types of HPV that cause genital warts. It offers no protection against HIV, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis or herpes.

9. Does the HPV jab cause ME/CFS?

Scientists from the medicine regulator MHRA investigated reports that some women were suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome following vaccination with the previous vaccine called Cervarix.

It found no evidence that the vaccine caused chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, also known as ME.

10. Why are only girls vaccinated?

Because HPV is sexually transmitted, some experts believe boys as well as girls should be vaccinated against HPV. Some other countries vaccinate both boys and girls, including Australia.

However, UK government vaccination advisors say as long as most girls have the HPV jab, available scientific evidence doesn’t warrant vaccinating boys.

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Reviewed on March 22, 2016

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