Teenage Health

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HPV Vaccination


Cervical cancer is the second most common women’s cancer in the world. In the UK around 3000 cases of it are diagnosed every year. Girls who have the HPV vaccine will reduce their risk of getting cervical cancer by 70%.

If you are a girl aged between 12 and 18, you should book in to have a HPV vaccine free of charge to help prevent cervical cancer. To get the full protection, it is important to have all three injections over a 6 month period. The injections are given by our friendly Practice Nurse. Please contact the surgery on 0115 932 5229 to book an appointment.

General Information

Since September 2008 there has been a national programme to vaccinate girls aged 12 to 13 against the human papilloma virus (HPV). This age group is usually in year 8 at schools in England.

From September 2008 a three-year "catch-up" campaign was started, to offer the HPV vaccine, also known as the cervical cancer jab, to older girls aged 14-17. Most primary care trusts are aiming to complete the catch-up programme within two years.

The programme is delivered largely through secondary schools and consists of three injections that should ideally be given over a period of six months, although they can all be given over a period of 12 months.

In the UK, from September 2008 to July 2010, at least 4 million doses of Cervarix (the HPV vaccine used in the UK programme) were given.

Human papilloma virus (HPV)

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name given to a family of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes (mucosa) that line the body. Mucosa are found in the:

  • mouth
  • throat
  • cervix (the neck of the womb)
  • anus

Some types of HPV are transmitted through sexual contact, which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

Combined with cervical screening, the HPV vaccination is an important step towards preventing cervical cancer. It is estimated that about 400 lives could be saved in the UK every year as a result of vaccinating girls before they are infected with HPV. 

Cervical screening

Cervical screening is a method of identifying abnormal cells in the cervix (neck of the womb). Early detection and treatment can prevent three-quarters of cancers developing.

According to Cancer Research UK, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women under the age of 35. In the UK, 2,900 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Regular cervical screening is the best way to identify abnormal cell changes in the cervix. Following the introduction of the national HPV vaccination programme in 2008, the NHS cervical screening programme will continue to play an important part in checking women between the ages of 25 and 64 for early-stage cell changes.

HPV infections

HPV infections are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Up to 8 out of 10 people are infected with HPV at some time during their lives. In most cases, the virus does not cause any harm because the immune system usually gets rid of the infection. It is also possible for you to be infected with more than one type of HPV.

Having sex just once could expose you to a genital HPV infection. Therefore, if you are infected with HPV, it does not necessarily mean that you have had a large number of sexual partners. However, a large number of sexual partners will increase your risk of becoming infected, as will having sex at a young age.

Using a condom during sexual intercourse is the most effective method of protecting against sexually transmitted infection (STI), and it can also help to prevent a genital HPV infection. However, as condoms do not cover the entire genital area and are often put on after sexual contact has begun, a HPV infection can still be transmitted even when a condom is used.

In 99 out of 100 cases, cervical cancer occurs as a result of a history of infection with high-risk types of HPV. Even if you are infected with a high-risk type of HPV you may not have any symptoms

HPV vaccination programme 

The HPV vaccination (also known as the cervical cancer jab) is part of the national vaccination programme and is given in secondary schools to girls aged 12 to 13. This age-group is typically in year 8 in schools in England. There is also a three-year "catch-up" programme in place, which started in September 2008, for girls aged 14 to 17.

From September 2009, girls who were 16 or 17 should have been offered the vaccine. From September 2010, girls aged 15 to 17 should have been offered the vaccine. Some primary care trusts are running ahead of this schedule.  

By the end of the catch-up programme, which should be complete by September 2011, all girls aged 12–17 should have been offered the HPV vaccine. At the moment, women aged 18 or over are not routinely offered a vaccination against HPV. 

Tell your GP if you (or your child) are having the vaccination and have:

  • a condition that makes them bleed more than normal, such as thrombocytopenia; it may be possible to use a different type of injection for these people
  • a weakened immune system (for example, as a result of a health condition such as HIV or AIDS), as the vaccine may not be as effective for these people

If these conditions affect you, it does not mean that you cannot have the HPV vaccine, it simply means that extra care may need to be taken.

Who should not be vaccinated

As with any medicine or vaccine, the HPV vaccine should not be used if you have had:

  • a confirmed anaphylactic reaction (severe allergic reaction) to any of its ingredients
  • a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine

If you are due to have the vaccine and you have a severe illness with a high temperature (fever), the vaccination should be delayed. This is because symptoms of the illness may be confused with side effects from the vaccine, and this could result in the wrong diagnosis being made.

There is no reason to delay vaccination for a mild illness, such as the common cold, which does not cause a fever or systemic upset (symptoms affecting the entire body).

How the HPV vaccine is given 

The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is given on its own and is not combined with other vaccines. If your child is 12 to 13 years old, you will usually receive information about the vaccination schedule and a consent form before your child has the HPV vaccine. If your child is older, they may be able to consent or refuse the vaccination themselves, so you may not receive a consent form.

The vaccination schedule

The HPV vaccine will be given as an injection into the muscle of the upper arm or thigh (upper leg). The vaccination consists of three doses and all three injections are needed to ensure full protection against the virus.

The second injection will be given one to two months after the first injection and the third injection will be given about six months after the first. All three doses should be given within a 12-month period.

In some circumstances it may be possible for the vaccination schedule to be more flexible. For example, if the third dose of the HPV vaccine falls during the exam period, it may be possible to have the vaccine slightly earlier. Your GP will be able to give you more information about this

Very common side effects

Very common side effects of the HPV vaccine include:

  • pain at the injection site
  • redness or swelling at the injection site
  • headaches
  • muscle pain
  • tiredness

These side effects occur in around 10%–15% of vaccine doses.

Common side effects

Common side effects of the HPV vaccine include:

  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal (tummy) pain
  • itchy skin
  • a red skin rash
  • hives (urticaria – an itchy, red rash)
  • joint pain
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over

These side effects occur in less than 10% of vaccine doses.

Uncommon side effects

Uncommon side effects of the HPV vaccine include:

  • upper respiratory tract infection (infection of the nose, throat or windpipe)
  • dizziness
  • other reactions at the injection site, such as a hard lump, tingling or numbness

These side effects occur in less than 1% of vaccine doses.

Very rare side effects

In very rare cases, it is possible for someone who has had the HPV vaccine to experience a more severe allergic reaction, known as an anaphylactic reaction (anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock). Signs of an anaphylactic reaction include:

  • breathing difficulties and wheezing
  • swollen eyes, lips, genitals, hands, feet and other areas (this is called angioedema)
  • itching
  • a strange metallic taste in the mouth
  • sore, red, itchy eyes
  • changes in heart rate
  • loss of consciousness

Severe reactions like this are very rare. From April 2008 to July 2010, there were 41 anaphylactic reactions reported to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA – the medicines safety watchdog). Out of four million doses given from September 2008 to July 2010, that makes such reactions very unlikely. 

If a severe allergic reaction does occur immediately, the healthcare professional who is giving the vaccine will be fully trained in how to deal with it.

If you are with someone and they start to experience the symptoms of anaphylaxis, dial 999 immediately to request an ambulance

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