The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is offered to girls from S1 to S3 in secondary schools. The immunisation helps protect against the 2 types of HPV that cause 75% of the cases of cervical cancer.

HPV immunisation against cervical cancer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9usiF8fsE_A)

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. Because it's 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.

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, and HPV is the main risk factor.

In the UK, around 1,000 women die from it.

All women aged from 25 to 70 are offered regular checks for any changes to the cells of their cervix. 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.

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 given as a series of 2 injections into the upper arm. Girls who get their first vaccination dose over the age of 15 will need to have 3 injections.

What vaccines are used?

The GARDASIL vaccines are routinely used in Scotland.

I missed my immunisation, can I still have it?

It's important that you've all the required doses to get the best protection. 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. 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 is 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 has 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 girls from S1 to S3, and you'll be informed by your school when your immunisation is due.

When am I going to be immunised?

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

Improving how vaccines are offered in Scotland

To improve how vaccinations are offered to you or your child, you may notice:

  • you're invited to a new location to receive your immunisations instead of your GP practice
  • the health professional giving your immunisations changes

You'll still receive clear information about the location, date and time of your appointment.

After the vaccine

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

Side effects

The common side effects are mostly felt around the area of the arm where you've had the injection:

  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • redness
  • small painless hard lump

If you do experience any of these side effects, they'll wear off 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. We don't recommend that you take these medicines in advance to prevent a fever from happening.

Remember if you're under 16 you shouldn't 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.

If you're worried about yourself or your child, 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, Simplified Chinese and Urdu.

A guide to the HPV vaccine

Audio leaflet

British Sign Language (BSL) leaflet

HPV immunisation against cervical cancer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyF-bka2kHs)

NHS Health Scotland have produced a BSL version of their HPV leaflet

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, that provides reliable information on vaccine safety.

More about the Vaccine Safety Net