HPV vaccine

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine protects from cancers and genital warts caused by HPV infection. Find out more about the vaccine, and when and where to get it.

What the HPV vaccine is for

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

Getting the vaccine now protects you against future risks. HPV 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.

Immunisation (vaccination) information in other languages and formats

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. You do not need to have penetrative sex. HPV lives on the skin in and around the whole genital area. This means that using condoms doesn’t provide complete protection from HPV. You do not need to have sexual contact with a lot of people to get HPV.

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 caused by HPV are increasing across the world. They are more common in men.

What’s cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 years old. Over 99% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV.

The HPV vaccine does not protect you against all types of HPV that can cause cancer. 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)

The best way to protect yourself against cervical cancer is to:

  • be immunised between the ages of 11 and 13
  • have regular cervical screening after turning 25

Who can get the HPV vaccine

Every person in Scotland aged 11-13 will be offered the HPV vaccine free of charge.

HPV vaccine for adult men

The HPV vaccine is available in Scotland for men who are:

  • up to and including 45 years old

and

  • men who have sex with other men (MSM)

The HPV vaccine may be 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

You should not have some vaccines if you’ve had a confirmed serious (anaphylactic) reaction to:

  • a previous vaccine
  • any ingredient of the vaccine

The HPV vaccine and cervical screening

This video explains why cervical screening is still necessary, even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine.

About the HPV vaccine

The GARDASIL 9 vaccine is used in Scotland.

Gardasil 9 helps protect against 9 types of HPV.

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

The HPV vaccine is not a live vaccine. It cannot cause HPV.

The vaccine is the safest and most effective way to protect against HPV.

Ingredients of the HPV vaccine

You can view the vaccine ingredients in the patient information leaflet:

How many doses of the vaccine do you need

Most people will be offered 1 dose of the vaccine.

If you’ve a weakened immune system, you may be offered 3 doses of the HPV vaccine. If you’ve any questions or concerns, speak to a health professional.

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

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.

If you’ve a weakened immune system, you may be offered 3 doses of the HPV vaccine. If you’ve any questions or concerns, speak to a health professional.

Vaccine safety

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness. The HPV vaccine meets the high safety standards required for use 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.

Read more about how we know vaccines are safe

How to get the HPV vaccine

You’ll be offered the HPV vaccine as part of the school-based immunisation programme. Vaccines are given by your local NHS immunisation team.

Your school will tell you when vaccination sessions are taking place.

Find out more about the vaccinations you’ll be offered at school

If you have any questions on the day, you can speak to the person giving you the vaccine.

If you missed your vaccination and you’re still at school

If you miss your HPV vaccination, there will be further opportunities to get it. For example, you may be offered a rescheduled vaccination appointment next year.

If you’re unsure if you’ve missed any other vaccines, you should
first check your red book. If you do not have a red book, or it has gone missing, you can check with your local NHS immunisation team.

Young people not in mainstream education

You’re also eligible for the HPV vaccine if you’re:

  • educated at home
  • not in mainstream education

Please contact your local NHS immunisation team to arrange your appointment.

If you’ve missed your vaccination and have now left school

If you’ve left school and you didn’t get your HPV vaccine when you were eligible, you may still be able to get it up until you turn 25.

This only applies to:

  • people who are currently eligible
  • boys who became eligible from the 2019/2020 academic year
  • girls under 25 who were eligible under routine and catch up programmes introduced in 2008

Your local NHS immunisation team can confirm if you’re eligible. They can also explain how to get the HPV vaccine in your area.

Q&A with a vaccinator

This video answers some common questions you may have about the vaccines you’ll be offered at school.

The vaccine consent form

You should be given a consent form and leaflet by your school. You and your parent or carer should chat about the information. Both you and your parent or carer should sign the consent form and return it to your school. You should return the consent form even if you’re not 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

Side effects of the HPV vaccine

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

The most common side effects of the HPV vaccine usually happen where you had the injection. These can include:

  • soreness
  • swelling
  • redness

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

Other common side effects include:

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

Very rarely, some people can have a severe reaction (anaphylactic reaction) soon after vaccination. This causes breathing difficulties and may cause them to collapse. These reactions are extremely rare. The person giving you your vaccine is fully trained to deal with them.

If you feel unwell after vaccination

If you feel unwell after vaccination, you can rest and take paracetamol. 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.

Do not take medicine containing aspirin if you’re under 16.

Phone 999 immediately if:

  • you or your child is having a fit

Phone your GP immediately if:

  • you or your child has a temperature of 39°C or above

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

Reporting 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 Organisation, that provides reliable information on vaccine safety.

More about the Vaccine Safety Net