What is HPV?
HPV (human papillomavirus) refers to a common type of virus which affects your skin and moist membranes lining parts of your body such as the mouth, throat and genital area like the cervix, vagina, penis and anus. There are around 100 different types of HPV, most are harmless, but certain types can cause genital warts and potentially lead to cervical cancer.
What are the chances of getting HPV?
Lots of people are likely to come into contact with HPV in their lifetime, in fact according to Cancer Research UK as many as 8 out of 10 people will be infected at some point in their lives. However, as HPV is mostly symptomless, the majority of these people will not know they have it. Only a small percentage of people with HPV will develop genital warts.
How is HPV spread?
HPV is trasmitted during sex, or skin to skin contact with the genitals.
How does the HPV vaccine work?
The HPV vaccine is given as an injection of Gardasil 9 in the right arm. Gardasil 9 then immunises against 9 types of HPV.
How many doses of the HPV vaccine do I need?
You need two or three doses of the HPV vaccine to get full protection, depending on the intervals between each dose.
Until recently the HPV jab was given in a two-dose schedule to teenagers aged 11 to 13 and then in a three-dose schedule to anyone older than this, this was done over a six-month period. But recent research by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) now suggests that two doses given at least five months apart will give just as much protection.
If you’re using our service to access the HPV vaccine privately, you can buy two or three doses at once or single doses.
Find out more about the HPV vaccine dosing schedule here.
Is the HPV vaccine for men and women?
The HPV vaccine can be given to both men and women. Under the current NHS vaccination programme, Gardasil is offered to boys and girls in Year 8, to girls as part of a catch up scheme up until their 26th birthday and to men aged under 45 who have sex with men
The virus can be caught and spread by men and women. Genital warts is experienced by men and women and it is important to remember that while HPV is often associated with cervical cancer (which only affects women, or transgender men with a cervix), it can also cause cancers of the anus, penis, throat and mouth.
Does the HPV vaccine only protect against cervical cancer?
No, the HPV vaccine can also protect against anal, penile, throat and mouth cancers. It is thought that increasing rates of mouth cancers, in particular throat and tonsil, maybe due to a greater proportion of cases being linked to HPV.
The strains 6 and 11 of the HPV virus are a common cause of genital warts, so the vaccine can also protect against this STI.
Are there any side effects to getting vaccinated against HPV?
Minor side effects can occur, similar to most other vaccinations. These side effects include redness, swelling or pain at the site of the injection, which usually settles within a couple of days. Others include bruising, fever, headaches, nausea and dizziness.
What’s the age limit for getting a HPV vaccine?
The reason few adults get the vaccine is because they are likely to have already been exposed to HPV through sex. Gardasil 9 can only protect and not treat HPV.
However there is no upper age limit, but getting the vaccine from age 11 is recommended. You can request vaccination through the Online Doctor if you are aged 18 and over. LloydsPharmacy stores can vaccinate those aged 12-45 only.
Can overseas visitors get the HPV vaccine?
It can be a challenge for some people outside of the UK to get the HPV vaccination, for that reason we have seen a huge influx of students, requesting the vaccine through our online service. The vast majority of these international students are Chinese, as the vaccine is relatively difficult to access in China. As the vaccine is administered in 3 doses over 6 months, the academic year gives plenty of time to fit in appointments for each dose.
Does the NHS offer free HPV vaccinations?
HPV vaccinations are generally not available free of charge from the NHS unless you're:
- Offered one in school as part of the UK national immunisation programmes (girls and boys aged 12 or 13)
- Aged 24 years or younger and missed your vaccination at school when you were invited as part of the UK’s Schools’ based programme
- A man who has sex with other men and are up to 45 years of age
Where can I get Gardasil 9?
You can request your vaccine online through LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. Complete a short medical questionnaire, select the pharmacy that is most convenient to you and pay for your vaccine. Your suitability will then be assessed by our clinicians and you will be prescribed the vaccine.
We'll then send you a link which you can use to book your appointment at your chosen pharmacy.
To book your appointment you'll need to:
- Choose the same pharmacy you chose when you placed your order
- Choose an appointment for your first vaccine. You can make appointments for your other vaccines at the pharmacy after you've had the first.
- Complete the booking form entering your Online Doctor order number. This will be in your confirmation email.
Please note that you may experience a delay in booking your vaccine if we are experiencing a high volume of vaccine requests.
Catching and passing on HPV
Types of HPV that affect the skin are transmitted through skin to skin contact with an affected person, e.g. a simple shaking of hands.
Types of HPV that affect the mouth and throat may be transmitted through mouth-on-mouth kissing and oral sex.
Types of HPV that affect the genital area are generally transmitted through sexual contact. This includes any skin-to-skin contact, vaginal, anal or oral sex and sharing of sex toys. Genital HPV isn’t only present on the penis and vagina but all over the genital area, including the anus. The chances of catching genital HPV increases with your number of sexual partners.
Our Doctors’ HPV advice
HPV is often symptomless. You can have it for many years without knowing and for some people it goes away on its own. If you have a long-term partner, a HPV diagnosis doesn't necessarily mean that one of you has been unfaithful. The virus could have easily been transmitted and remained dormant from before your relationship.
HPV and cervical cancer
Certain types of HPV can increase the chance of developing cervical cancer, especially types 16, 18, 31, 33 and 45. At least one of these HPV types is present in the vast majority of women with cervical cancer. Types 16 and 18 cause around 70% of cervical cancers, while the other 3 cause most of the remaining 30%.
Most women with high risk HPV don’t develop cervical cancer. Other factors include the strength of your immune system or whether you smoke regularly – both of which increase the risk of cervical cancer in alongside high risk HPV types.
HPV and genital warts
All warts are caused by a HPV infection. Most warts are harmless and clear up without treatment. However, genital warts are the most common viral STI in England and the second most common STI after chlamydia.
Although generally harmless, they can be visually unpleasant, painful and cause distress and embarrassment. We offer treatment for genital warts via our STI treatment clinic.