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.

HPV immunisation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zbTAySitQA)

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

What is the human papillomavirus?

HPV is a very common virus which usually has no symptoms. More than 70% of unvaccinated people will get it at some point in their life.

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.

HPV is usually spread through intimate sexual contact. Condoms don't provide complete protection. 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'll develop cancer or genital warts. Getting the vaccine now protects you against future risks.

Why should I be vaccinated?

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

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

Practice 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 immunisation.

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).

Over 1,200 new cases of head and neck cancers are diagnosed in Scotland each year.

What's cervical cancer?

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

 A diagram of the female reproductive system, including fallopian tubes, ovaries, the uterus (womb), the cervix and the vagina

Diagram of the female reproductive system from Public Health Scotland ©

Cervical cancer can be very serious. It's the most common cancer in women under 35 in Scotland.

The HPV vaccine will prevent around 75% of cervical cancer cases, but screening is still needed to pick up any other changes in the cells of the cervix.

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

More on cervical screening (smear tests)

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 is eligible for the vaccination?

The HPV vaccine can be given any time from age 9 upwards, but you will normally be offered this during high school. It is offered to all genders.

When will I be immunised?

You will be immunised at secondary school, from S1 onwards. Your local health board 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 health board regarding your vaccination appointment

If you missed your immunisation at school

To get the best protection it's important you have 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. If you've left school and need to arrange an appointment, contact your local health board.

If you're unsure if you've had all doses of the vaccine, you can request your vaccination record from your GP.

Home-educated children

If you are educated at home you are also eligible for the HPV vaccine. Please contact your local health board to arrange your appointment.

What type of consent do I need to get the HPV vaccine?

You should be 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, you and your parents will be asked to sign it and return it to your 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.

Get more information on young people's right to consent

Further information and other languages/formats

More information on the HPV vaccine can be found in these leaflets, available in multiple languages and formats:

A guide to the HPV vaccine
Get protected against cancers caused by HPV

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 two doses of the vaccine.

The first dose is offered to all pupils in S1 at secondary school. The second dose is usually offered in S2. You'll be offered the second dose at least 6-12 months after the first.

Some people may require three doses. This includes people who are living with immunosuppression or who may have started a three dose course when they were aged over 15. The person giving you the vaccine will let you know how many doses are right for you.

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

Following the injection your arm may be a little tender, swollen, or red. A small, painless hard lump may form where you got the jag. These are common reactions and will disappear after a couple of days.

Less common side effects include:

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

If you feel unwell after the immunisation, take paracetamol or ibuprofen. Make sure you:

  • 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

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

Immediate action required: Call 999 immediately and seek help if:

  • your child is having a fit

Urgent advice: 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)

Further information and other languages/formats

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

What to expect after immunisation: young people

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

Last updated:
28 September 2022

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