Overview

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is offered to every S1 pupil in Scotland.

Evidence shows the HPV vaccine helps protect both boys and girls from HPV-related cancers.

If your immunisation session was not possible during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, your health board will be in touch to rearrange your appointment.

If you have left school or are unsure if you have missed any vaccinations, contact your GP to check. 

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

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's HPV and how does it spread?

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.

What are head and neck cancers?

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

Around 1,300 new cases of head and neck cancers are diagnosed in Scotland each year.

What's cervical cancer?

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

539 cervix
Diagram of the female reproductive system 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 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's eligible for the vaccine?

The HPV vaccine can be given any time from age 9 upwards. However, it's normally delivered in the immunisation programme from S1 at secondary school. 

The vaccine

The HPV vaccine is normally given as a series of 2 injections into the upper arm. Pupils who get their first vaccination dose over the age of 15 will need to have 3 injections.

What vaccine will I get?

The GARDASIL vaccine is routinely used in Scotland. You can find the ingredients of the HPV vaccine in this patient information leaflet.

Where and when will I get the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is offered to all pupils in S1, at school. You'll be informed by your school when your immunisation is due.

How many doses of the HPV vaccine will I get?

The vaccine's offered in 2 or 3 doses over a period of 12 months, depending on what age you were when you received the first dose.

The first dose is offered to all pupils in S1 at secondary school. The second dose is usually offered in S2.

If you receive your first dose before you turn 15 years old, you'll only need 2 doses of the HPV vaccine. You'll be offered the second dose at least 6-12 months after the first.

If you receive your first dose after you turn 15 years old, you'll need 3 doses of the vaccine. You'll be offered the second dose at least 1 month after the first dose, and the third dose at least 3 months after the second dose.

Does the immunisation protect me from other sexually transmitted infections?

The HPV vaccine is designed to protect you against the 2 types of HPV that cause 75% of cervical cancer cases.

These 2 types of HPV also cause around:

  • 90% of anal cancers
  • 85% of head and neck cancers
  • 78% of vaginal cancers
  • 50% of penile cancers
  • 25% of vulval cancers across the world.

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.

However, having this immunisation won't protect you against any other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia.

I missed my immunisation session at school, can I still have the vaccine?

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 or are unsure if you've missed any vaccinations, contact your GP.

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

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:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • fever (high temperature).

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 will be able to advise on this.

Urgent advice: Phone your GP immediately if at any time you (or your child):

  • has a temperature of 39°C or above
  • has a fit

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 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, phone:

Other formats

Public Health Scotland has produced leaflets explaining the HPV vaccination in Scotland and what to expect after immunisation in young people. 

The leaflet's are also available in Easy Read English and other languages.

A guide to the HPV vaccine
After immunisation

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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