The national immunisation programme for HPV – who's eligible?
Reviewed by our clinical team
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus. There are over 100 different strains of HPV. Most of them are harmless and won't cause any problems. Some strains cause verrucas, whilst others can cause genital warts.
Because of the cancer risk associated with high-risk strains of the virus,, the NHS runs a national immunisation programme offering an HPV vaccine. This is available for school age girls and boys, and men who have sex with men.
If you’re concerned about HPV and you’d like to learn more about getting the vaccine, read on to find out if you’re eligible for one on the NHS.
Why do we need a vaccine for HPV?
We need a vaccine for HPV because certain high-risk strains are known to cause cancers of the cervix, mouth, throat, anus, vagina, vulva, and penis.
HPV spreads very easily via skin-to-skin contact. Genital warts and the high-risk strains can be spread during sex or genital touching. Using condoms doesn't offer complete protection.
There is no cure for any of the HPV strains, but the vaccine can stop you from getting the high-risk strains.
When was the HPV vaccine introduced in the UK?
The first version of the HPV vaccine was introduced in 2008. Initially it was only offered to girls aged 12 or 13, however from 2019 it was approved for boys of the same age. In 2018, the HPV vaccine was approved for men who have sex with men (MSM).
The latest development has been a switch in the type of vaccine used for the national programme. Previously, the vaccine Gardasil was used – this protects against four strains of HPV which are known to cause cancer and genital warts. The new version, Gardasil 9, prevents against nine strains, which means it offers a higher level of protection.
Who is eligible for the HPV vaccine as part of the immunisation programme?
There are two arms of the HPV immunisation programme: children in school, and men who have sex with men.
Children in school
Girls and boys are routinely offered the HPV vaccine in school when they are 12 or 13. Giving it at this point, before most girls and boys are sexually active, means they will be protected once they start having sex.
A first dose of the vaccine is given in year eight, and a second between six and 24 months later. If a child misses the opportunity while in school they’ll be able to get the vaccine for free on the NHS up until they turn 25.
Men who have sex with men
Gay and bisexual men, or any other men who have sex with men (MSM), are eligible for a free HPV vaccine up until the age of 45. Some trans men and trans women are also eligible for a free vaccine under this arm of the programme, dependent on the level of their risk.
Can you get the HPV vaccine free after the age of 25?
You can’t get the HPV vaccine on the NHS after you turn 25, unless you’re a man who has sex with other men. MSM are eligible for a free HPV vaccine until the age of 45.
The good news is, the HPV vaccine is available privately to people who don’t qualify for a free one.
I had Cervarix a few years ago, can I get Gardasil now?
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.
Where can I get the HPV vaccine?
Getting the vaccine on the NHS
Girls and boys will be offered their free vaccine in school. People under the age of 25 who miss this opportunity can contact their GP surgery about getting one for free on the NHS.
MSM under the age of 45 can visit a sexual health clinic or an HIV clinic to get a free HPV vaccine.
Getting the vaccine privately
If you don’t qualify for a free HPV vaccine you can get one privately using a service like LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.
Order your vaccine through us, and once our in-house doctors have approved it, you’ll be able to visit your nearest LloydsPharmacy store to get your injections.