Overview

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine's now available in Scotland for men who have sex with men (MSM) up to and including 45 years of age.

The vaccine will help prevent HPV infection, which can cause genital warts and certain types of cancer. It’s especially important for those who are living with HIV, and those who've more than one sexual partner.

The vaccine's available from sexual health and HIV clinics.

What's HPV and how does it spread?

HPV's very common and you can catch it through intimate sexual contact with another person who already has it.

There are over 200 types of HPV. 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 and infections tend to go away on their own.

HPV's the most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK. HPV's spread mainly by skin-to-skin contact, not just anal and vaginal sex. Genital HPV infections are highly contagious and usually associated with sexual contact. Nearly all sexually active people get infected with HPV at some point in their lives. The risk increases with the number of sexual partners you and/or your partners have.

What diseases can it cause?

HPV infections that persist can lead to cancers – anal, throat and penile (penis) cancers in men, and cervical cancer in women. Other types of HPV infection can cause genital warts.

Can HPV infection be prevented?

Condoms don't guarantee protection from infection. This is because HPV can be transmitted by skin contact with areas not covered by condoms.

One of the best ways to protect yourself from HPV infection is to get the vaccine. The vaccine protects against 4 types of HPV (types 6, 11, 16 and 18) that can cause cancer and genital warts.

Why should MSM attending sexual health and HIV clinics be immunised?

MSM attending sexual health and HIV clinics are known to have a higher risk of HPV infection and disease.

The risk of anal cancer in MSM is higher than in heterosexual men. This is because MSM aren't getting the protection that heterosexual men are getting from the girls' immunisation programme operating in Scotland since 2008. If you're living with HIV, this risk is higher again.

HPV immunisation's a very effective way to reduce your risk of genital warts and your risk of developing cancer caused by HPV.

The vaccine

The HPV vaccine's a course of 3 injections over 4 to 12 months if you're 15 to 45 years old.

Those under the age of 15 only need 2 doses, 6 months apart.

To get the best protection, it's important you get all 3 doses.

What vaccine's used?

The GARDASIL vaccine's routinely used in Scotland.

Where can I get the vaccine?

Please ask your sexual health doctor or nurse for details on how to get the vaccine.

Find your nearest sexual health service

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 has been given to millions of people worldwide.

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

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 of the immunisation are mostly felt around the area of the arm where you've had the injection, and include:

  • soreness
  • swelling
  • redness
  • mild itching

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

Less common side effects are:

  • 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, trust your instincts. Speak to your GP or phone the 111 service.

Phone your GP immediately if, at any time, you have a temperature of 39°C or above, or have 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 for men who have sex with men, phone:

Immunisation leaflet

NHS Health Scotland have produced a leaflet explaining the HPV vaccine for men who have sex with men 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.

The HPV vaccine for men who have sex with men (MSM)

Audio 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

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