Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine trains your immune system to fight future infection and prevent cancer
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that increases the risk of cancer in both men and women. In fact almost all (99.7%) of cervical cancers, and 5% of all cancers globally is linked to the virus. Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancer in women under 35 in the UK. The vaccine has made the elimination of cervical cancer a possibility.
To avoid this risk, a safe and effective vaccine is now offered for free to both boys and girls aged 12-13 in the UK. This will protect both the child, and any future partners from getting the disease.
Why is it recommended?
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, and often you will not have any symptoms of the infection. In many cases the body’s immune system clears the infection on its own. However for some women the virus persists and increases the risk of cancer.
The vaccine helps to protect against cancers in both men and women that are caused by the virus. These include:
- Cervical cancer
- Cancers of the vulva and vagina in women
- Penile cancer in men
- Mouth, throat and anal cancers
The vaccine also protects against most genital warts.
Does it work?
There are many types of the virus, and the vaccine protects against the 2 most high risk strains of the virus (HPV 16 and 18), as well as 2 strains which cause genital warts (HPV 6 and 11).
Since the vaccine was first introduced for girls in the UK in 2008, the number of HPV infections has fallen by 86% in England. And more importantly, the percentage of women with abnormal changes to their cervix that could later progress to cancer has fallen hugely – in Scotland, this has fallen by 71%.
Number of people diagnosed with genital warts has also fallen by 90% in England in 15-17 year old girls since the vaccine was introduced.
The vaccine, however, does not help to increase the immunity of patients who are already infected with HPV. So, it is not therapeutic.
Is it safe?
There is no risk of getting an infection from the vaccine. The vaccine does not contain any virus.
The vaccine is made of a protein that mimics the shape of the virus. When you are vaccinated, the immune system responds by producing antibodies that attack and clear the proteins. Since the vaccine protein has a similar shape to the virus, the antibodies will also recognise and clear the virus if you were ever exposed to it.
This means that there is no risk of actually getting an infection from the virus.
Of course, the vaccine can have side effects in some people like pain, redness and sometimes itching at the site of the injection, as well has fever and feeling sick. Rarely, 1 in 1000 people have hives. But again, this does not mean you have been infected by the virus.
Should my child get the vaccine?
It is completely up to the parent whether the child gets the vaccination or not.
Parents may be worried about side effects of the vaccine, or not think that it is necessary or worth the risk. All concerns should be discussed with the GP.
It is true that your child may never get infected by HPV, and even if they do, they may not develop any of the linked cancers.
However, 850 women die every year who did not have the chance to have the HPV vaccine in time.
Now with this vaccine, eliminating cervical cancer for good has become a possibility. The World Health Organisation has made a plan to make this a reality.
For more information about the vaccination:
NHS “HPV Vaccine Overview”: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/hpv-human-papillomavirus-vaccine/
Public Health England “Ten years on since the start of the HPV vaccine programme – what impact is it having?”: https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2018/06/18/ten-years-on-since-the-start-of-the-hpv-vaccine-programme-what-impact-is-it-having/
World Health Organisation “Cervical Cancer”: https://www.who.int/health-topics/cervical-cancer#tab=tab_2
Information on this website is provided for informational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. For medical advice, diagnosis and prescription, please consult a healthcare professional.