A vaccine is a substance that improves immunity (protection) to a particular disease. The HPV vaccine protects against the HPV virus which can cause cancer and genital warts in both women and men.
HPV vaccine prevents Cervical Cancer
A study published in November 2021 from England observed a substantial reduction in cervical cancer and incidence of severe cervical abnormality caused by HPV infection (CIN3) in young women after the introduction of the HPV immunisation programme in England, especially in individuals who were offered the vaccine at age 12–13 years.
The study advises “the HPV immunisation programme has successfully almost eliminated cervical cancer in women born since Sept 1, 1995”
In October 2020 a study from Sweden reported that Swedish girls and women aged 10 to 30 years old, who had been vaccinated with Gardasil (which protects against 7 out of 10 cervical cancers) resulted in a big reduction in the risk of invasive cervical cancer in the population.
In the study cervical cancer was diagnosed in 538 women who had not received Gardasil vaccine and in only 19 women who had received the vaccine.
In Ireland, Gardasil 9 vaccine given through the school immunisation programme protects against 9 out of 10 cervical cancers.
How we know the HPV vaccine is safe
The HPV vaccine is safe. The safety of the HPV vaccine has been studied for over 16 years.
No country has raised concerns about the safety of the HPV vaccine. There is no scientific evidence in Ireland or in any other country that the HPV vaccine causes any long-term medical condition.
Vaccines are strictly monitored and reviewed regularly by international bodies including the:
- World Health Organization
- European Medicines Agency
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA
The HPV vaccine currently used in Ireland is called Gardasil 9. Over 100 million people have been fully vaccinated with Gardasil worldwide. This includes over 550,000 people in Ireland.
Who should not get HPV vaccine
There are very few people who cannot receive the HPV vaccine.
People should not be vaccinated if they have had an anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of HPV vaccine or any of the ingredients of the HPV vaccine.
The ingredients are Sodium chloride, L-histidine, polysorbate 80, sodium borate.
The HPV vaccine should not be given to in pregnancy.
HPV vaccine side effects
Long-term side effects
All international bodies have continually reported that the vaccines used in Ireland have no long-term side effects.
Short-term side effects
Most people have no problems after the vaccine. The HPV vaccine has many of the same, mild side effects as other vaccines.
Some people have an area of soreness, swelling and redness in their arm where the injection was given. This usually passes after a day or two.
Some people may get a headache, or feel sick in their tummy or have a slight temperature. If this happens, paracetamol or ibuprofen will help.
Occasionally, some people may feel unwell and faint after getting their injection. To prevent this, when someone gets the vaccine they are asked to sit down and rest for 15 minutes after the vaccination.
Severe allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare. School vaccination teams are trained to treat any severe allergic reaction. If you are worried, talk to a member of the school team or your GP.
False claims about the HPV vaccine
We are aware of stories on social media claiming that the HPV vaccine causes an increase in cases of:
- postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) – an increase in heart rate that can make you feel faint and dizzy
- complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) – a form of chronic pain that usually affects an arm or a leg
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) researched these claims in 2015. They found no evidence that the HPV vaccine leads to an increase in these conditions.
The HPV vaccine in other countries
Over 140 countries and territories now have a HPV vaccine programme, with more than 50 of these giving the vaccine to boys and girls.
These countries include:
- New Zealand
HPV vaccine effectiveness
The HPV vaccine now protects against the types of HPV that cause 9 out of 10 cervical cancers.
Studies from Sweden and England showed that vaccination with HPV vaccine is associated with a big reduction in the risk of cervical cancer especially in people who got the HPV vaccine at 12 to 13 years of age.
The HPV vaccine has greatly reduced cases of pre-cancers of the cervix in young women in many countries including Australia, Sweden, the US and the UK.
In countries where the HPV vaccine is used, the number of cases of genital warts has decreased dramatically in both young women and men.
Since the HPV vaccine was licensed in 2006, research has been done all over the world. It shows that the vaccine is safe and prevents cancer. Read more about HPV vaccine safety and effectiveness.
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers the HPV vaccine to be extremely safe. Read more about the safety of the HPV vaccine on the WHO's website.
Patient information leaflet
The vaccine used as part of the school immunisation programme is called Gardasil 9. It is produced by MSD Ireland (Human Health).
The licensed documents for each vaccine (the Summary of Product Characteristics and the Patient Information Leaflet) are available from the HPRA Website.
HPV screening for females
Even if you have had the HPV vaccine, you should have your cervical screening test (smear test) each time it's due. This is because the HPV vaccine doesn't give complete protection against cervical cancer.
HPV screening for males
There is no HPV screening currently available for males. The HPV vaccine is your best chance at protecting yourself against genital warts and HPV-related cancers.
The HSE School Vaccination Programme
The HPV vaccine, along with MenACWY and Tdap, is given to first year students in secondary school by our school vaccination teams.
There is no requirement to restart the HPV vaccine schedule if the schedule is interrupted and more than one dose is required. The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) advice from the Immunisation Guidelines for Ireland says:
If an immunisation course is interrupted, it should be resumed as soon as possible. It is not necessary to repeat the course, regardless of the time interval from the previous incomplete course*. The course should be completed with the same brand of vaccine if possible.
* except cholera vaccine’