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    Talking to your partner about getting the HPV vaccine

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      Reviewed by our clinical team

      Vaccine

      Most of us have heard of the human papillomavirus (better known as HPV) but not everybody is aware there’s a vaccine for it, or that this vaccine is free for certain groups of people.

      If you’re thinking about getting the HPV vaccine, you might be thinking about how to tell your partner – perhaps because you’d like them to get the vaccine too. Whatever your circumstances and concerns, we’ve put together this simple guide which you should find helpful.

      How should I explain HPV and the vaccine to my partner?

      If your partner doesn’t know what HPV is, you can give them this simple explanation.

      There are over 100 different types of HPV (sometimes called strains) and only 40 of them affect the genitals. Most of the "genital "strains are caught during skin-to-skin contact when having sex. Using a condom every time you have sex can reduce the risk of getting it. HPV is very common because it spreads very easily, but luckily it doesn’t cause symptoms and most of the time it’s completely harmless – in fact, your body will usually clear the virus without you ever knowing you had it.

      However, there are a few types (or “strains”) of HPV that can lead to cell changes that cause cancer. Because of this, an HPV vaccine was developed, which protects against the most high-risk strains of the virus.

      The HPV vaccine doesn’t treat the virus or clear it from your system if you already have it. Instead, it reduces your risk of becoming infected in the first place. 

      Who can get the HPV vaccine?

      Anyone can get the HPV vaccine, but not everyone can get it for free. As an adult, you should be able to get a free vaccine if you fall into one of the following groups:

      • You missed the vaccine in school and you’re younger than 25 
      • You’re a man who has sex with men (MSM) and you’re 45 or younger 
      • You’re someone who has a similar risk to MSM e.g. you’re a sex worker, a trans man or a trans woman

      Otherwise, the vaccine available privately through services like Online Doctor

      You can find out more about the NHS HPV vaccine programme by reading this article: Who can get a free HPV vaccine? 

      Do all HPV vaccines offer protection against genital warts?

      If you've had your HPV vaccine at school between 2008 and 2012, you will have received the Cervarix vaccine; this offers protection against cervical cancer, but not against genital warts. You could consider "upgrading " this to the Gardasil9 vaccine which also offers protection against genital warts. You can speak to your GP about this or have this done privately through our Online Doctor service.

      Why is it a good idea to get the HPV vaccine?

      If you’ve told your partner that you’re getting the HPV vaccine, they may want to know why.

      In simple terms, getting the HPV vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from the cancers associated with high-risk HPV, like cancer of the cervix, penis and throat. It has the added benefit of protecting against genital warts, which are also caused by the human papillomavirus – although by different strains to the ones that cause cancer.

      Why would someone in a relationship need the HPV vaccine?

      If you’re in a casual or polyamorous relationship – i.e. you and your partner have sex with other people – then you could both benefit from getting the HPV vaccine. Any time you have sex with a new person, there’s a risk of getting HPV, even if you use condoms

      If you’re in a monogamous relationship – i.e. you don’t have sex with anyone other than your partner – your risk of acquiring HPV is lower than for other people. However, you still might be vulnerable to infection.

      Although we’re still learning how HPV works, we know that the virus can stay in your system for several years, and that reinfection from your existing partner is probably possible. In short, you don’t have to be sleeping with anyone other than your partner to benefit from getting the HPV vaccine. 

      Find out more about catching HPV from your partner here

      What does HPV vaccination involve?

      If you’re eligible for a free vaccine, you can speak to your GP or school immunisation team, or visit a sexual health or GUM clinic. If you’re not eligible, you can use a private service like Online Doctor.

      Adults receiving the vaccine need three doses over several months. It’s given as an injection, normally in the upper arm. 

      Is the HPV vaccine safe? 

      Yes, the HPV vaccine is safe. It has passed many strict safety standards for use in the UK and has been given to millions of people around the world.

      As with other vaccines given as an injection, it can sometimes result in a bit of soreness and swelling at the injection site but this should pass in a few days. In very rare occasions it’s possible for the vaccine to cause a severe allergic reaction, which is why all healthcare staff who administer the vaccine will be trained in giving emergency treatment for anaphylaxis. 

      Considering a HPV vaccine?

      Request vaccine


      References

      https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/828868/Greenbook_chapter_18a.pdf
      https://www.jostrust.org.uk/information/hpv/faqs
      https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/who-should-have-hpv-cervical-cancer-cervarix-gardasil-vaccine/
      https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/694178/HPV_for_MSM_leaflet.pdf  

      Authors and editors

      • Reviewed and updated by

        Dr Tatjana Street
        GMC number: 4569536
        Date reviewed: 16th December 2021

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