The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been offered to girls in Scotland from S1 since 2008.

From academic year 2019/20, the HPV vaccine will be offered to S1 boys as well.

This is because the evidence now shows that the HPV vaccine helps protect both boys and girls from HPV-related cancers.

The HPV vaccine is normally delivered to young people in S1 at school. If your immunisation session is not possible due to school closures during the Coronavirus  (COVID-19) outbreak, your local Health Board will reschedule the immunisation date as soon as possible.

Immunisation helps protect against the HPV virus, which can lead to cancers such as:

  • head and neck cancers
  • cervical cancer (in females)
  • anogenital cancers (e.g. anal and penile (penis) cancer, cancer of the vagina and vulva).

HPV immunisation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Na-E34AUUvs)

NHS Health Scotland has produced a video explaining why the HPV vaccine is offered, and to whom.

What's HPV and how does it spread?

HPV is very common and can be caught through intimate sexual contact with another person who already has it. More than 70% of unvaccinated people will get it at some point in their life. People are often infected without knowing it as there are usually no symptoms.

Most people who become infected with HPV clear the virus from their body, but others may develop a range of cancers in later life caused by the HPV virus.

Some people may also develop genital warts, which can sometimes be difficult to treat.

Having the vaccine is important because we can't predict who will develop cancer or genital warts.

What are head and neck cancers?

There are more than 30 areas within the head and neck where cancer can develop, including the:

Around 1,250 new cases of head and neck cancers are diagnosed in Scotland each year.

What's cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer develops in the cervix, the entrance to the uterus (womb). It's caused by a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Diagram of the female reproductive system NHS Health Scotland ©

Cervical cancer can be very serious. After breast cancer, it's 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.

In Scotland, around 100 women die from it.

The vaccine will prevent around 75% of cervical cancer cases, but screening is still needed to pick up any other cervical abnormalities.

All women aged from 25 to 64 are offered cervical screening, also known as 'smear tests', in Scotland. The combination of immunisation and regular screening offers the best possible protection against cervical cancer.

More on cervical screening (smear test)

Carron's story: Cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-YEut6zKZ0)

Carron talks about her experience of surviving cervical cancer, and her daughters talk about the HPV vaccine.

What are anogenital cancers?

Anogenital cancers can develop in 4 areas of the anogenital tract, and include:

Around 350 new cases of anogenital cancers are diagnosed in Scotland each year.

Who's eligible for the vaccine?

The HPV immunisation 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

The HPV vaccine is normally given as a series of 2 injections into the upper arm. Pupils who get their first vaccination dose over the age of 15 will need to have 3 injections.

What vaccine's used?

The GARDASIL vaccine is routinely used in Scotland.

I missed my immunisation, can I still have it?

To get the best protection it's important you've all the required doses. If you miss the immunisation session in school, you'll be recalled to the next one.

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

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

You should've been given a consent form and leaflet by your school. You and your parents, or carer, should discuss the information before agreeing to have the immunisation. When you're given the consent form, your parents will be 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.

If you, or your parents or carer, have any questions about having the immunisation, speak to your nurse first if you can, or your GP.

Does the immunisation protect me from other sexually transmitted infections?

The HPV vaccine is designed to protect you against the 2 types of HPV that cause 75% of cervical cancer cases.

These 2 types of HPV also cause about*:

  • 90% of anal cancers
  • 85% of head and neck cancers
  • 78% of vaginal cancers
  • 50% of penile cancers
  • 25% of vulval cancers across the world.

(*Statistics vary country to country).

The vaccine also protects against 2 other types of HPV that cause about 90% of genital warts cases.

However, having this immunisation won't protect you against any other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia.

How do we know the vaccine's safe?

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The vaccine meets the high safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. The vaccine's been given to millions of people worldwide.

Once they're in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the MHRA.

Where and when to get it

The HPV vaccine is offered to boys and girls in S1 and you'll be informed by your school when your immunisation is due.

When am I going to be immunised?

The vaccine's offered in 2 or 3 doses over a period of 12 months, depending on the age of when you receive the first dose.

Most students will only need 2 doses of the vaccine.

If you receive your first dose before you turn 15 years old, you'll only need 2 doses of the HPV vaccine. You'll be offered the second dose at least 6 -12 months after the first.

If you receive your first dose after you turn 15 years old, you'll need 3 doses of the vaccine. You'll be offered:

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

After the vaccine

After having the vaccine there may be side effects, but these are usually mild.

Side effects

Following the injection your arm may be a little tender, swollen, red or form a small, painless hard lump where you got the jag.

Don't worry - these are quite common reactions and will disappear after a couple of days.

Less common side effects include:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • 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.
  • Don't take these medicines in advance to prevent a fever from happening.
  • Remember - if you're under 16 you shouldn't take medicine containing 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.

If you have any concerns, trust your instincts. Speak to your GP or phone the 111 service.

Phone your GP immediately if, at any time, you (or your child) has a temperature of 39°C or above, or has a fit. If your GP practice is closed, phone the 111 service.

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

Where can I report suspected side effects?

You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card Scheme.

This can be done by:

  • visiting the Yellow Card Scheme website
  • phoning the free Yellow Card hotline on 0808 100 3352 (available Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 2.00pm)

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the HPV vaccine, phone:

Immunisation leaflet

NHS Health Scotland have produced a leaflet explaining the HPV vaccination in Scotland, why it's offered and when it's given.

This leaflet's also available in Easy Read English and other languages - including Polish, Mandarin (Simplified Chinese) and Arabic.

A guide to the HPV vaccine

HPV vaccine audio leaflet

HPV vaccine BSL leaflet

After immunisation

What to expect after immunisation: Young people

What to expect after immunisation: Young people (BSL)

What to expect after immunisation: Young people (Audio)

Vaccine Safety Net Member

NHS inform is a proud member of the Vaccine Safety Net.

The Vaccine Safety Net is a global network of websites, evaluated by the World Health Organization, providing reliable information on vaccine safety.

More about the Vaccine Safety Net

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