What exactly is the human papillomavirus? Known as HPV, it’s the collective name for a group of viruses often transmitted through skin-to-skin sexual contact or intercourse. Of the many strains of HPV, around 30 of these can affect the genitals.
Some of these strains can cause health problems ranging from genital warts to cancers, With this in mind, it is worth considering getting the vaccine—especially if you’re not yet sexually active, as this is when the vaccine is most effective.
The HPV vaccines were first licensed in 2006, and it’s recently been announced that from April 2018, the NHS vaccination programme will be extended to cover men aged 45 or younger who have sex with other men.1 We’ve written this article to address and decode some of the most frequently asked questions about the HPV vaccines, and make sure you are fully aware of the facts.
Q. If this is a vaccine against a virus, how does it help to prevent cervical cancer?
A. The HPV virus can lead to changes in the cervix which may then become cancerous. That’s why preventing HPV significantly reduces the chances of developing cervical cancer. You can read more about this here.
Q. I’ve heard that the vaccine is designed for young women and people who aren’t sexually active. Is that why it’s given to girls as young as 12, before they’re sexually active?
A. The ideal time to have the vaccination is before there’s been any risk of exposure to HPV—before becoming sexually active. What’s more, the immune system in younger girls responds better to the vaccine, meaning that they only need two doses. In girls over the age of 15, three doses are recommended.2
Q. Does the vaccine provide protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
A. No. The HPV vaccine does not protect against other common STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea.. It’s also worth noting that the effectiveness of condoms’ protection against HPV or STIs is approximately 99% if used correctly.
Q. If it helps to prevent cervical cancer, why do men need the vaccination?
A. It’s a little-known fact that HPV can cause cancer of the anus, penis, mouth and throat.3 That’s why it’s so important that men consider the vaccine. The vaccine can also protect both men and women against some types of genital warts caused by HPV.
Men are partly and indirectly protected when women with whom they’re sexually active are vaccinated, but this isn’t the case with men who have sex with men. That’s why the NHS is introducing a national vaccination for men who have sex with men, and are aged 45 and under.1 Heterosexual men aren’t eligible for HPV vaccination through the NHS, but they can still be vaccinated through the LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor Service.
Q. I’ve heard the NHS only uses one particular type of HPV vaccine. Does that mean it’s the most trusted version?
A. The newest vaccine available is Gardasil 9, which is the vaccination used by LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. This is know to offer effective protection against nine strains of HPV, which are known to cause cervical cancer, genital warts, vulval cancer and anal cancer.
The vaccine currently used as part of the NHS HPV Vaccination Programme is called Gardasil. This protects against four types of HPV, two of which cause cervical cancer and the other two of which cause genital warts.4 There’s one more type of HPV vaccine—Cervarix. This protects against the same two types of HPV that cause cervical cancer as Gardasil, but not genital warts.
Gardasil 9 is available for both men and women through LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. It can also be given to anyone who has already received a course of Gardasil or Cervarix, but would like the increased protection offered by Gardasil 9.
Q. I’m very careful always to use barrier contraceptives, so why would I need to bother with this vaccine?
A. Barrier contraceptives like condoms will help to protect against HPV, but they don’t offer complete protection because the virus can be transferred by any skin contact. That’s why it’s worth getting vaccinated.
Q. Once I’m protected, I’ll no longer need to go for a smear test, right?
A. The HPV vaccination protects against 70-90% of cervical cancer-causing HPV types. However, it doesn’t provide 100% protection. That’s why it’s really important that you continue to attend regular appointments for smear tests.
Q. I received a full course of the vaccine, when do I need a booster?
A. While it’s not necessary to get a booster, if you’ve been vaccinated with either Cervarix or Gardasil, you can get increased protection from a Gardasil 9 vaccination available through LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.
Q. I missed having the vaccines when I was at school and now I’m older and sexually active. Is it too late to have it now?
A. The ideal time to be vaccinated is before becoming sexually active, as exposure to HPV may have already occurred. However, the vaccine will still protect against future exposure to HPV if received after becoming sexually active, so it’s definitely worth looking into!
Q. My immune system isn’t great. I’m worried that the vaccine might actually give me HPV if my body can’t cope with the vaccine. Is this possible?
A. No, it’s impossible for the vaccine to give you HPV because it doesn’t contain a live virus. There are some uncommon circumstances which could mean that you don’t respond to the vaccine, this is usually when a background illness is present that suppresses the immune system.
- HPV vaccination programme for men who have sex with men – https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hpv-vaccination-programme-for-men-who-have-sex-with-men
- NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/hpv-human-papillomavirus-vaccine/
- NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/hpv-human-papillomavirus-vaccine/#hpv-vaccination-for-men-and-boys
- NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/hpv-human-papillomavirus-vaccine/#how-does-the-hpv-vaccine-work