We use cookies to help us improve your experience and to provide services like web chat. We also use cookies to measure the effectiveness of public health campaigns and understand how people use the website.

To find out more about cookies and how we use them, please see our privacy policy.

About the HPV Vaccine

New campaign image

HPV vaccine protects against cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is a very common virus; about 80% of people will get a HPV infection during their lifetime.

Most people will never develop health problems from HPV however sometimes the infection can give rise to cancer.

It is now known that HPV infection may cause other cancers as well as cancer of the cervix.

HPV infection may cause cancers

  • cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women;
  • cancers of the penis in men; and
  • cancers of the back passage (anus) and of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx), in both women and men.

The HSE HPV vaccination programme commenced in 2010 to protect young women from HPV infection and the risk of developing cervical cancer later in life using the HPV4 vaccine.

From September 2019, on the recommendations of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, the HSE will begin to offer the HPV9 vaccine (Gardasil 9) to all students in first year in second level schools to protect them against cancers caused by HPV virus and genital warts in adulthood. HPV9 vaccine is offered to this age group because the response to the vaccine is best at this age.

The vaccine is recommended by

  • the World Health Organization
  • the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  • the National Immunisation Advisory Committee 

The HPV vaccine is available free of charge from the HSE for all students in 1st year of second level school.

The vaccine is given through a school based programme, to ensure high vaccine uptake. However, in specific instances some girls will be invited to special HSE clinics for their vaccines.

The HSE will let you know the date the school immunisation team will attend your child’s school to give the HPV vaccine. If a student misses the vaccine in school, the HSE will arrange for the student to be vaccinated at a HSE clinic.

Why is HPV vaccine being recommended to both boys and girls? 

84 countries now have an HPV vaccine programme, with more than 20 of these countries giving the vaccine to boys and girls. These  countries include the US, Australia and New Zealand. The UK will also begin their programme for boys in September 2019.

HPV vaccination of boys provides direct protection against HPV-related disease to boys. 

Each year in Ireland, over 6,500 women need hospital treatment for pre cancer of the cervix, 300 women get cervical cancer, and 90 women die from it. Vaccinating boys will provide greater protection to everyone by preventing the spread of HPV virus and this will reducing the burden of cervical cancer further.

Every year, 538 cancers associated with HPV are diagnosed in Ireland in both women and men, a quarter are diagnosed in men. The number of throat (oropharyngeal) cancers caused HPV are increasing in men.

HPV9 vaccine protects against 9 out of 10 cervical cancers.

The HSE are offering the vaccine to students in first year because the vaccine works best when given at this age. The vaccine will protect students before adulthood and the likely exposure to HPV.

Under the age of 15, you only need 2 doses of the vaccine, but at 15 years and older you need three doses for full protection.

To read more information about HPV vaccine and HPV cancer please visit the following page HPV and Cervical Cancer

We have compared the possible effects of getting HPV with the possible side effects of getting HPV vaccine

DiseaseEffects of DiseaseSide Effects of the Vaccine
HPV - stands for human papillomavirus, which is a group of more than 200 viruses. Most people will get a HPV infection during their lifetime, usually from sexual activity.

HPV infection causes changes in the cervix that can develop into cervical cancer. HPV infection is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s. HPV infection rates are now known to be rising rapidly among women and men in high income countries like Ireland.  

Every year in Ireland about 300 women get cervical cancer and 90 women die from it.  

Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of death due to cancer in women aged 25 to 39 years.

HPV infection is a known cause of other cancers:

Of 133 cancers of the throat (oropharynx), 57 cancers are caused by HPV and are mostly seen (75%) in men.

Each year HPV causes 7 out of 38 some cancers of the vulva,  and 7 out of 10  cancers of vagina.

Each year HPV causes 4 out of 5 back passage (rectum) cancers in men and women 10 out of 32 cancers of the penis in men.

HPV virus can cause a range of precancerous lesions – abnormal cells –in both men and women

If 1000 people are vaccinated  

More than 100  will have

  • pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the vaccine was given
  • headache;  

more than 10 will have

  • dizziness;
  • nausea;
  • and / or a mild fever.  

Rarer side effects include: More than 1 in 1,000  will have  hives, or a rash  

More than 1  in 10,000, may have wheezing (bronchospasm);

Is it safe?


Yes, HPV vaccines have been shown to be very safe. For more than 12 years the safety of the HPV vaccine has been strictly monitored and frequently reviewed by many international bodies including:

  • the European Medicines Agency (EMA);
  • the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety of the World Health Organization;
  • the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.

These international bodies have continually reported that the HPV vaccine is safe with no known long-term side effects.

The World Health Organization considers HPV vaccines to be extremely safe (July 2017).

The vaccine can cause some short term side effects. These may include:

  • pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the vaccine was given;
  • headache;
  • dizziness;
  • nausea;
  • and/or a mild fever.

These can be treated with paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Occasionally girls faint after getting an injection. The girls will be advised to sit down for 15 minutes after the vaccination. This helps prevent fainting.

Rarer side effects include:

  • wheezing (bronchospasm);
  • or an itchy rash or hives.

Like most vaccines, severe allergic reactions are extremely rare. If you are worried about any of these talk to your doctor or a member of the school team. The contact phone numbers are available in English and Irish.


The HSE is guided by the recommendations of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

All vaccines used by the HSE including Gardasil® are licensed by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). These agencies have strict procedures for the licensing and monitoring of all vaccines to ensure their safety and effectiveness. Over 244 million doses of Gardasil® have been distributed worldwide, either as part of national immunisation programmes or by private doctors. Gardasil® is currently used in over 25 European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In Ireland 660,000 doses of Gardasil® have been administered and more than 240,000 girls have been fully vaccinated against HPV.

All national and international regulatory bodies have stated HPV vaccines are safe.

In January 2017 all 69 US National Cancer Institute NCI-designated Cancer Centers Endorsed HPV Vaccination

“As national leaders in cancer research and clinical care, we are compelled to collectively call upon parents and health care providers to increase vaccination rates so our nation’s children don’t grow up to become cancer patients. HPV vaccines, like all vaccines (used in the U.S.), have passed extensive safety testing before and after being approved. The vaccines have a safety profile similar to that of other vaccines approved for adolescents in the U.S. Internationally, the safety of HPV vaccines has been tested and approved by the World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety”.

See information at: https://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/news/images/pdf/HPVConsensusStatement_Jan2017.pdf

In 2018 all 70 US National Cancer Institute NCI-designated Cancer Centers endorsed goal of eliminating HPV related cancers by HPV vaccination and screening. 

High HPV vaccination rates combined with cervical cancer screening and treatment will result in the elimination of cervical cancer in the near future and elimination of other HPV-related cancers thereafter.

To read more information about Gardasil 9 please visit the following pages:

Did you know?

In 2008, The Nobel Prize in Physiology/ Medicine was awarded to Harald zur Hausen "for his discovery of human papilloma (HPV)viruses causing cervical cancer”

This discovery made it possible to develop a vaccine against cervical cancer. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2008/hausen/facts/

Further information

The vaccine used for the school programme in Ireland is called Gardasil. It is manufactured by MSD. The Patient Information Leaflet and the Summary of Product Characteristics are available here

Gardasil 4

Gardasil 9

More information is available on the following pages:


If you still have questions and would like to speak to the school team please contact them using the following phone numbers.

The contact phone numbers are available in English and Irish.


This page was updated on 31 May 2019