Beating cervical cancer

The HPV vaccination is offered routinely to girls aged 12-13 years, to help protect them against cervical cancer as early as possible.

Frequently asked questions

Who will be offered the vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is offered routinely to all 12–13 year old girls (Year 9), to protect them against their future risk of cervical cancer. It is a school-based programme and a school health team from your local Health and Social Care Trust will give the vaccinations.

What if a Year 9 girl misses out on receiving her vaccine at school?

If a girl misses one or more doses of the vaccine in Year 9, she will be contacted by the school health team in Year 10 to receive or complete the vaccination. This should happen automatically, but if you haven't heard anything by the end of September, you might want to check with the school nurse just to make sure.

What about older girls?

Any girl starting Year 10 who has missed one or both doses of vaccine should be contacted by the school health team to receive them.

Girls who have not started the course of HPV vaccination before their 15th birthday will require three doses to achieve adequate protection against HPV. The evidence for the effectiveness of the two dose course is based on vaccinating girls younger than 15 years old.

Girls who still haven't been vaccinated by the end of Year 10, that is girls in Years 11-14, should contact their GP to arrange it.  Remember 3 doses of HPV vaccine will be required from 15 years of age.

What about HPV vaccination for those aged 18 and over?

The vaccine is not currently being offered to those aged 18 and over, but this will be kept under review by the DHSSPS. If a girl over 18 believes that HPV vaccination could be beneficial to her, she can seek advice from her GP as to whether it is clinically appropriate for her to be vaccinated. Her GP may prescribe the vaccine if there is exceptional clinical need.

Also, cervical screening will be available as normal through the Northern Ireland cervical screening programme. This begins when women are aged 25 (see the leaflet Cervical screening: it's best to take the test).

How will the vaccination be given?

The person giving the routine vaccination or catch-up vaccination will be fully qualified to do this and will know how to deal with any problems that may arise. The vaccine will be given in the upper arm by a nurse or doctor. For the vaccine to work, two injections will be needed within a 12 month period. However, if a girl is 15 or older when she gets her first dose, she needs three injections, within a 12 month period, to get the best protection.

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes, the vaccine meets the rigorous safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recently completed a comprehensive review of the HPV vaccine, which examined the evidence surrounding reports of two syndromes – complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) – in young women who were given human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.

The review concluded that the occurrence of CRPS and POTS in vaccinated girls was no higher than would be expected in girls in the general population (around 150 cases of CRPS and at least 150 of POTS per million each year) and that there is no evidence the vaccines can trigger these syndromes.

The review took into account cases not reported as CRPS and POTS, but with signs and symptoms suggestive of these conditions.

The review recognised that more than 80 million girls and women worldwide have now received these vaccines and in some European countries, they have been given to 90% of the age group recommended for vaccination.

Use of these vaccines is expected to prevent many cases of cervical cancer and various other cancers and conditions caused by HPV. The benefits of HPV vaccines therefore continue to outweigh the known side effects.

The safety of these vaccines, as with all medicines, will continue to be carefully monitored and will take into account any future new evidence of side effects that becomes available.

The full EMA review can be found here

What about girls who have allergies or other medical conditions, can they still have the HPV vaccination?

Yes. Food intolerances, asthma, eczema, hay fever, and allergies generally do not prevent someone from having this vaccine. If you have any concerns about this, speak to the school health team or your GP.

Girls whose immune systems are affected through medication or long-term conditions can have the vaccine, but the vaccine may not work as well for them and they may require three doses of HPV vaccine or the course may need to be repeated in some circumstances.

Will the vaccine affect any other medication?

There is no evidence that the vaccination reduces the effectiveness of any medication or the contraceptive pill.

Where can I find more information about the vaccine?

The patient information leaflet about the vaccine can be found here.

Consent

Why are parents of 12–13 year old girls being asked to sign consent forms?

As with other forms of healthcare consent will be sought before the vaccine is given.

What if a girl’s parents don’t want her to have the vaccination?

Parents of girls under 16 should discuss this with their daughter and seek advice from the school health team, however the decision is legally hers as long as she understands the issues in giving consent.

Girls over 16 years of age are presumed to be capable of consenting themselves unless there are specific reasons otherwise.

What if a girl doesn’t want to have the vaccination?

She doesn’t have to have it, if she doesn’t want to. But it is recommended that she does for the reasons given on this website. Having the vaccination now will protect her for many years.

Other issues

What if a girl in the target group has already been sexually active?

If a girl has been sexually active, there is a possibility that she may have already caught HPV. However, as it won’t be known which type of the virus she may have been infected with, she should still have the vaccine as it may still protect her.

Why will a smear test still be needed later?

Cervical screening (smear test) will continue to be essential to detect changes in the cervix caused by the types of HPV that this vaccine does not protect against. From the age of 25 women will be invited for screening as normal.

What about pregnancy?

There is no known risk associated with giving HPV vaccine during pregnancy. However, as a matter of precaution, HPV vaccine is not recommended in pregnancy. This is not because of any specific safety concerns with giving HPV vaccine during pregnancy but because there is limited information on using the vaccine during pregnancy. If a girl finds out she is pregnant soon after she has been given HPV vaccine, this should be discussed with her GP.

Why aren’t boys being vaccinated?

The purpose of this campaign is to protect girls and women against cervical cancer. Obviously, boys do not get cervical cancer, but they still need to know about safer sex to reduce the risk of them catching and spreading HPV.