HPV vaccine


The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is offered to every S1 pupil in Scotland. Evidence shows the HPV vaccine helps protect pupils from HPV-related cancers.

What is HPV?

HPV is a common virus which usually produces no symptoms. This means that people may not even know they’re carrying the virus.

In most people HPV clears up quickly. But carrying HPV makes you more likely to develop certain types of cancer. It also means you can pass HPV on to others.

HPV is usually spread through intimate sexual contact. Condoms don’t provide complete protection from HPV.

Why should I be vaccinated?

Getting the vaccine now protects you against future risks. The HPV virus can lead to cancers like:

  • head and neck cancers
  • cervical cancer
  • anogenital cancers – for example, anal, penile (penis) cancer, cancer of the vagina, and cancer of the vulva

The HPV vaccine also protects you against over 90% of genital wart infections.

Practise safer sex

HPV vaccination does not protect against other infections spread during sex, like chlamydia. It also does not prevent pregnancy. It’s still very important to practise safer sex, even if you’ve had your HPV vaccine.

What are head and neck cancers?

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

  • mouth (including the lips)
  • voice box (larynx)
  • throat (pharynx)
  • salivary glands
  • nose and sinuses
  • area at the back of the nose and mouth (nasopharynx).

Head and neck cancers are most common in men and those assigned male at birth. Over 1,200 people are diagnosed each year in Scotland.

What’s cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer develops in the cervix, which is the entrance to the uterus (womb). It’s caused by HPV.

Diagram of the female reproductive system from Public Health Scotland ©

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women and those assigned female at birth who are under 35 years old. HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine does not protect you against all types of HPV that can cause cancer, so you’ll still need to go for regular cervical screening (smear tests) when you reach 25 years of age.

Read about cervical screening (smear tests)

HPV immunisation between the ages of 11 and 13, followed by regular cervical screening when you reach 25, offers the best possible protection against cervical cancer.

Who is eligible for the vaccination?

Every person aged 12-13 will be offered the HPV vaccine free of charge.

Read more about the vaccines offered to young people

When will I be vaccinated?

To give you the best protection, you’ll be offered the vaccine in S1. Your local NHS immunisation team will be in touch with your appointment details. You do not need to do anything to arrange your appointment.

Find out how to contact your local NHS immunisation team regarding your vaccination appointment

Most people will only need 1 dose of the vaccine.

If you missed your vaccination at school

If you miss your HPV vaccination, for whatever reason, there will be further opportunities to get it. For example, some young people may be offered a rescheduled vaccination appointment the next year.

If you’re unsure if you’ve missed your vaccination, you can contact your GP to check your vaccination record.

Home-educated young people

If you’re educated at home you’re also eligible for the HPV vaccine. Please contact your local NHS immunisation team to arrange your appointment.

College and university students

Most students will have had the HPV vaccine at school. If you missed it, you may still be eligible for the vaccine.

If you are a student from Scotland, or coming to Scotland from overseas, and have not been offered the vaccine, you first need to register with a GP practice local to your new address.

You’ll be eligible for the HPV vaccine if:

  • you were assigned female at birth and are under 25
  • you were assigned male at birth and started secondary school during or after the 2019/2020 school year
  • you were assigned male at birth, have sex with men (MSM), and are aged up to and including 45 years old

Men who have sex with men are offered the vaccine because they’re known to have a higher risk of HPV infection due to not being protected by the girls’ HPV programme.

Read more about the HPV vaccine for men who have sex with men

HPV vaccine for adult men

The HPV vaccine is available in Scotland for men and those assigned male at birth who are both:

  • up to and including 45 years old
  • sexually active with other men (MSM)

The HPV vaccine is offered to MSM at sexual health and HIV clinics across Scotland.

Find your local sexual health clinic

Further information about accessing the HPV vaccine for men who have sex with men

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

The vaccine

The HPV vaccine is the most effective way to prevent some HPV related cancers.

What vaccine is used?

The GARDASIL 9 vaccine is used in Scotland.

Gardasil 9 helps protect against 9 types of HPV. These are types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, 58.

Find out more about the Gardasil 9 vaccination

How effective is the vaccine?

The vaccine protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which are the cause of most cervical cancers in the UK (more than 80%). The vaccine also protects against types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58, which cause an additional 15% of cervical cancers.

The statistics on cancers caused by HPV are different from country to country.

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

HPV vaccination does not protect against other infections spread during sex, such as chlamydia, and it will not prevent pregnancy, so it’s still very important to practise safer sex.

How many doses of the vaccine do I need?

Most people will be offered 1 dose of the vaccine.

In previous years, 2 doses of the vaccine were recommended. Evidence now shows that most people only need 1 dose to give protection.

Why has the dosage changed?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has reviewed the scientific evidence about the doses of the HPV vaccine. They agree that there’s very strong evidence that most young people only need 1 dose of the HPV vaccine.

This means that most young people who’ve already received 1 dose are now fully vaccinated. They don’t require any further doses of the HPV vaccine.

Why are some young people still being offered more than 1 dose?

If your immune system is weakened due to any existing disease or treatment, you may be offered 3 doses of the HPV vaccine. If you have any questions or concerns, speak to the nurse first if you can, or your GP.

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

Once they’re in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

After the vaccine

There may be side effects after having the HPV vaccine, but these are usually mild.

Side effects

The most common side effects of the HPV vaccine are usually felt around the area of the arm where you have had the injection. These can include:

  • stinging
  • soreness
  • swelling
  • redness
  • mild itching

If you do experience any of these side effects, they will wear off after a couple of days.

Other common side effects include:

  • fever
  • sickness
  • dizziness
  • muscle aches
  • headache
  • fatigue

If you feel unwell after vaccination, take paracetamol or ibuprofen. Make sure you read the instructions on the packet carefully and take the correct dose for your age.

We do not recommend that you take these medicines in advance to prevent a fever from developing.

If you’re under 16, don’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 at the vaccination clinic will be able to advise on this.

Read more about the common side effects from vaccines in young people

Call 999 immediately and seek help if:

  • you or your child is having a fit

Call your GP immediately if at any time you or your child:

  • has a temperature of 39°C or above

If your GP practice is closed, phone the 111 service. If you have any concerns, trust your instincts.

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 0800 731 6789 (available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)

Vaccine Safety Net Member

Public Health Scotland is a proud member of the Vaccine Safety Net and partners with NHS inform to provide reliable information on vaccine safety.

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

Further information and other languages and formats

More information on side effects after vaccination can be found in this leaflet, available in multiple languages and formats:

Last updated:
29 November 2023

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