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In England, from September 2019 both girls and boys aged 12 to 13 years will now be routinely offered the first dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination in school Year 8. This is an extension of the HPV vaccination programme and will help prevent more cases of HPV-related cancers in boys and girls.
The second dose is offered 6 to 12 months after the first (in school Year 9). It's important to have both doses to be protected.
Girls who missed their HPV vaccination in school Year 8 can continue to have the vaccine up to their 25th birthday. Those who start the HPV vaccination after the age of 15 will need 3 doses to have full protection. This is because the response to two doses in those older is not quite as good. Please contact your GP if you are female and18-24 years old and would like your HPV vaccination.
A catch-up program for older boys is not necessary as evidence suggests they're already benefitting greatly from the indirect protection (known as herd protection) that's built up from 10 years of the girls' HPV vaccination program.
What is HPV?
HPV is the name given to a very common group of viruses. There are more than 100 different types of HPV, and around 40 that affect the genital area.
HPV is very common and as HPV infections do not usually cause any symptoms, often people will not know they're infected. Most people will get a HPV infection at some point in their lives and their bodies will get rid of it naturally without treatment, but in some cases the infection stays in the body for many years and then, for no apparent reason, starts to cause damage.
High-risk types of HPV are linked to different types of cancer, including:
How does the HPV vaccine work?
The HPV vaccination protects against 4 types of HPV: 6, 11, 16 and 18. Types 16 and 18 are the cause of most cervical cancers in the UK (more than 70%) and HPV types 6 and 11 cause around 90% of genital warts. In addition some of the anal and genital cancers, and cancers of the head and neck, are also caused by HPV infection which the vaccine helps protect against.
HPV vaccination does not protect against other infections spread during sex, such as chlamydia, so it's still very important to practise safe sex and for girls to have regular cervical screening (smear test) from 25 years old, as this helps detect cell changes.
Why is the HPV vaccine given at such a young age?
HPV is very common and can be caught through any kind of sexual contact with another person who already has it. HPV infections can be spread by any skin-to-skin contact and are usually found on the fingers, hands, mouth and genitals. This means the virus can be spread during any kind of sexual activity, including touching.
The HPV vaccine works best if girls and boys get it before they come into contact with HPV. So getting the vaccine when recommended will help protect them during their teenage years and beyond.
For more information please see: www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/hpv-human-papillomavirus-vaccine
After the vaccination is administered, the young person will be given a certificate with the date and name of vaccination received, along with information about potential side effects that the young person and parent / guardian should be aware of. The certificate should be kept in the young person’s health record (red) book as a record of vaccination.