Overview

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is available in Scotland for men up to and including 45 years old who have sex with men (MSM).

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 have more than one sexual partner.

The vaccine is available from sexual health and HIV clinics. Please ask your sexual health doctor or nurse about the other vaccines recommended for MSM that help protect against hepatitis A and B infections.

What is HPV and what diseases can it cause?

HPV is a very common virus which usually has no symptoms. Nearly all sexually active people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives.

Most often people do not realise that they are carrying the virus. For the majority of people, HPV clears up quickly.

Carrying HPV makes you more likely to develop certain types of cancers. These include head and neck cancers and anogenital cancers - for example anal cancer and penile (penis) cancer.

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

How is HPV infection spread?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK. HPV is usually spread through intimate sexual contact, not just anal and vaginal sex. Genital HPV infections are highly contagious.

Can HPV infection be prevented?

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

One of the best ways to protect yourself from HPV infection is to get the vaccine.

Who is offered the vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is offered to MSM up to and including 45 years old attending sexual health and HIV clinics across Scotland. This is because MSM attending sexual health and HIV clinics are known to have a higher risk of HPV infection.

Since 2019, the HPV vaccine has been offered to boys in S1 at secondary school. It will take a number of years before direct protection from this programme is seen in MSM.

The HPV vaccine is a very effective way to reduce your risk of genital warts and your risk of developing cancer caused by HPV.

The vaccine

How many doses will I be offered?

From April 2022, most eligible people will be offered 2 doses of the HPV vaccine (at least 6 months apart). However, if you started your vaccines before this date, are HIV positive, or have certain long-term health conditions, you may need 3 doses.

If you require 3 doses of the HPV vaccine, the second dose should be given one month after your first dose, and the third dose 4 to 6 months after the second dose (if eligible).

Your health professional will let you know what is the right dose for you.

What vaccine is used?

The GARDASIL vaccine is 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 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.

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

After the vaccine

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

Side effects

The most common side effect of the HPV vaccine is mild to moderate pain for a short time around the area of the arm where you had the injection. Around the injection area you may also experience:

  • soreness
  • stinging
  • swelling
  • redness
  • mild itching

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

Other commonly reported side effects are:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • fever (high temperature)
  • muscle pain
  • fatigue

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. It isn't recommended 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.

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)

Urgent advice: Phone your GP or, if your GP's closed, phone 111 if:

  • you have a temperature of 39°C or above
  • you have a fit

Read more about 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 0800 731 6789 (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)

Further Information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the HPV vaccine for men who have sex with men (MSM), phone:

Immunisation leaflet

NHS Health Scotland have produced a leaflet explaining the HPV vaccine for MSM 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.

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

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:
19 April 2022

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