Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (Cervarix, Gardasil)

Authored by , Reviewed by Sid Dajani | Last edited | Meets Patient’s editorial guidelines

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is offered to girls and boys aged 11-14 years as part of the UK immunisation schedule. It protects against cancer of the neck of the womb (cervical cancer).

It will be injected into a muscle in your upper arm or thigh.

The most common side-effects are tenderness at the site of the injection and headache. These should soon pass.

Type of medicineHuman papillomavirus vaccine
Used forPrevention of cervical cancer and genital warts caused by human papillomavirus
Also calledCervarix®; Gardasil®; Gardasil 9®
Available asIntramuscular injection

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name given to a group of viruses that can affect the skin and the moist membranes that line different parts of your body such as your mouth, throat and genital area. There are many types of HPV. Most types of the virus do not cause any symptoms and will be cleared completely from your body by your immune system. Some types of HPV, however, are known to increase the risk of developing particular cancers. In particular, types HPV16 and HPV18 are known to be involved in the development of most cases of cervical cancer (cancer of the neck of the womb). Two other types of HPV (types HPV6 and HPV11) are the cause of most cases of genital warts, a common sexually transmitted infection.

Three HPV vaccines are available in the UK: Cervarix®, Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®. Cervarix® protects against HPV16 and HPV18, which means it offers protection against cervical cancer. Gardasil® protects against HPV16, HPV18 and HPV6 and HPV11, which means that it protects against genital warts as well as cervical cancer. Gardasil 9® is a new vaccine that offers protection against nine different types of HPV.

It is currently recommended in the UK that HPV vaccine is given to girls and boys aged 11-14 years as part of the standard immunisation schedule. Immunisation takes place in schools using the Gardasil® vaccine. The other two vaccines are not routinely offered by the NHS but may be available privately.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before having HPV vaccine it is important that your nurse or doctor knows:

  • If you feel unwell or have a high temperature.
  • If you could be pregnant.
  • If you have been told you have a weakened immune system. This may be a result of an illness or taking medicines.
  • If you have a condition that makes you bleed more than is normal, such as haemophilia.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine. You should not have the vaccine if you have had an allergic reaction to a previous HPV vaccine.
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, as well as herbal and complementary medicines. Taking the contraceptive pill does not interfere with the vaccine.
  • Before you have the vaccine, ask to read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. The manufacturer's leaflet will give you more information about the vaccine and a full list of side-effects which you may experience from it.
  • The vaccination programme requires two doses of Gardasil® to be given. The vaccine is given by injection into your upper arm or thigh. You will be given the same brand of vaccine for each of your doses.
  • The first dose is given during school year 8 and the second dose is given 6-24 months later. In practice, this often means that the first dose is given during school year 8, and the second dose during school year 9.
  • Adolescents who have not had their first dose by the time they are 15 years old will be offered a three-dose schedule - in this case the second and third doses will be given 1-2 months and 6 months, respectively, after the first dose.
  • If you have a high temperature (fever) or you are acutely unwell at the time of a scheduled immunisation, your doctor or nurse may recommend delaying the vaccine. A minor illness (such as a common cold) will not interfere with the vaccine. If a delay is advised, you will be given an alternative appointment for the vaccination to be given.
  • The HPV vaccine will not prevent every case of cervical cancer. Women should still attend for regular cervical screening tests, even if they have received the HPV vaccine.

Along with their useful effects, vaccines like most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects, although not everyone experiences them. HPV vaccine often causes no problems, but the table below contains some of the side-effects which may occur. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side-effects continue or become troublesome.

Common human papillomavirus vaccine side-effectsWhat can I do if I experience this?
Pain, swelling, redness, bruising or itching around the site of the injectionThis should soon pass
Headache, aching muscles or jointsIf troublesome, take a dose of a suitable painkiller
Feeling tired, raised temperature (mild fever)This should soon pass
Feeling sick (nausea), diarrhoea, tummy (abdominal) painEat simple meals - avoid rich or spicy meals. Drink plenty of water

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the vaccine, speak with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

  • It is unlikely that you will be asked to store the vaccine before it is given to you. If, however, this does happen, keep it refrigerated until it is needed.
  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.

If you are having an operation or any dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.

If you have any questions about this medicine, ask your pharmacist.

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Further reading and references

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