Missed your HPV vaccine? Here’s why women aged 25+ should get vaccinated
Reviewed by our clinical team
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. Because it’s spread through skin-to-skin contact you can catch it during vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as when sharing sex toys or touching each other’s genitals.
There are over 100 strains of HPV and most of them are harmless and won’t cause any problems. About 40 strains infect the genital tract. Most of these strains cause genital warts. However, there are some high-risk strains that can cause cervical cancer in women and cancer of the anus or penis in men.
Free HPV vaccines on the NHS
Since 2008, the NHS has run a national HPV vaccination programme for girls aged 12 or 13. Today, free vaccines are also offered to boys of the same age. As part of the school programme, girls and boys can get the HPV vaccine for free up to their 25th birthday if they missed the opportunity in school.
Because lots of girls and young women have been vaccinated, heterosexual men benefit from herd immunity. To protect MSM (men who have sex with men) from anal and penile cancer, they are also being offered HPV vaccination up to the age of 45. Trans men and trans women up to the age of 45 are also eligible for a free vaccine if their risk is considered similar to MSM.
Why the HPV vaccine is given at a young age
The vaccine is given at the age of 12 or 13 because, at this point, most teenagers aren’t sexually active. By receiving the HPV vaccine at this age, they'll be fully protected by the time they start having sex.
Having said that, the vaccine can still have a benefit for older teenagers or adults. This is why it’s offered to everyone up to the age of 25, and to any men who have sex with men up to and including the age of 45.
Getting your vaccine after the age of 25
If you’re cis woman and you’re 25 or older, you’ll no longer be eligible for a free vaccine on the NHS. The good news is that the HPV vaccine is available on a private basis. In fact, you can get yours at your nearest LloydsPharmacy store if you make an order through Online Doctor.
Trans men and trans women, and men who have sex with men can still receive a free vaccine until they’re 45 if their risk of HPV is considered high.
Does the first HPV vaccine (Cervarix) offer protection against genital warts?
If you are in your early twenties now you were probably given the Cervarix vaccine. This is a good vaccine to protect you against cervical cancer, but it doesn't protect you against genital warts.
If you'd like this additional protection, you could consider getting the Gardasil 9 vaccine now. Speak to your GP if you’re under the age of 25 to see if you can get this on the NHS. If you are over the age of 25 you can have this done privately, for example through our HPV vaccination clinic.
Why women should get the HPV vaccine
The HPV vaccine is important for girls and women because of the connection between the human papillomavirus and cervical cancer. High-risk types of HPV, including 16 and 18, are responsible for the majority of cervical cancer cases.
High-risk HPV also increases your risk of other types of cancer, including:
- Cancers of the mouth and throat
- Cancer of the vulva
- Cancer of the vagina
Getting the HPV vaccine means that you’ll be protected against high-risk strains of the virus, which means you don’t have to worry about catching the virus when you have sex. It will also help to protect you (and your partner) against genital warts. Remember: HPV is transmitted through skin or genital contact, so even using condoms or dental dams can't offer 100% protection.
Is the vaccine still beneficial from the age of 25?
Yes, getting vaccinated at an older age can still be beneficial, even if you’ve been sexually active for several years.
Why women should attend their cervical screenings
In the UK, women from the age of 25 are invited to attend a free cervical screening, also known as a smear test, every few years. During this appointment, a doctor or nurse inserts a brush into your vagina to sweep a few cells from your cervix (neck of the womb) – these cells are then sent to a lab to be checked for high-risk HPV.
Going to a cervical screening can be a daunting experience, especially if it’s your first time, but it’s really important to go to your appointment every time you’re invited. Checking for high-risk HPV lets your doctor know if you have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, which means they can offer preventative treatment if necessary.
Although a smear test can be a bit uncomfortable, it only takes a few minutes and will be carried out by an experienced health professional who can talk you through every step.
Get the HPV vaccine with Online Doctor
If you’re 25 or older and don’t otherwise qualify for a free vaccine, click here to visit our clinic and order one through Online Doctor.