The HPV vaccine
HPV or “human paplliomavirus” are a collection of viruses that can affect almost all sexual active people in Ireland. The HPV vaccine will be available now to both boys and girls in their first year of secondary school. It protects from more than 99% of cancer-causing HPV virus types.
The vaccine contains virus-like particles of HPV that are used to protect your body from high risk HPV types which can be cancer causing. It is also designed to protect against genital warts, which are caused by low-risk types of HPV.
The most common cancer caused by the HPV virus is cervical cancer. However, the HPV virus affects boys too through male HPV related cancers of the anus, throat, and penis.
Following a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), the Minister for Health and Children announced that the HPV vaccine would be introduced into the national immunisation programme in Ireland from September 2019. This means that all first-year students in Ireland will have access to the vaccine as a part of the national strategy to prevent cancers linked to HPV.
Gardasil 9 is licensed for use from the age of nine for the prevention of cancers linked to HPV. These cancers include cancer of the-
- Back of the throat (oropharynx)
- As well as pre-cancerous lesions
This vaccine protects against the HPV types which are responsible for 90% of cervical cancer.
Gardasil 9 – The HPV Vaccine
The HPV vaccine currently used in Ireland is called Gardasil 9. Over 100 million people have been fully vaccinated with Gardasil worldwide. This includes over 260,000 people in Ireland.
The Patient Information Leaflet and the Summary of Product Characteristics are available here
Why is the HPV vaccine now being offered to boys?
Unlike cervical pre-cancers there is no screening test available for oropharyngeal, anal or penile cancers, so prevention is imperative. Vaccination not only helps protect boys against HPV, but also provides greater protection for women.
Vaccination of both boys and girls is shown to reduce the spread of HPV and is likely to reduce the overall burden of HPV related cancer sooner than would a girls only programme.
This means that the extension of the HPV vaccine programme to include boys will likely radically improve protection against HPV infection and associated HPV disease, in vulnerable groups such as gay couples.
To read the HIQA report on why the HPV vaccine is being rolled out to boys, click here.
Is the HPV vaccine safe?
The HPV vaccine- safe and effective
The HPV vaccine is known to be most effective when given at the age of 12 to 13 years and will provide protection throughout adulthood. Since 2006, more than 200 million doses of the HPV vaccines have been distributed globally and over 80 million young girls and boys have been protected from developing cancer.
The HPV vaccine is safe. The safety of the HPV vaccine has been studied for over 13 years. Over 1 million people have been studied during clinical trials since the vaccine was licensed in 2006.
No country has raised concerns about the safety of the HPV vaccine. There is no scientific evidence in Ireland that the HPV vaccine causes any long-term medical condition.
Vaccines are strictly monitored and reviewed regularly by international bodies including the:
- World Health Organisation
- European Medicines Agency
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA
For more than 12 years the safety of the HPV vaccine has been strictly monitored and frequently reviewed by many international bodies including:
- the European Medicines Agency (EMA);
- the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety of the World Health Organization;
- the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.
The HPV vaccine in Ireland
- All vaccines are monitored by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and the European Medicines Agency .
- Each year around 300 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 90 women die from the disease. Research shows that 90% of cervical cancer cases can be linked back to HPV.
- The HPV vaccine is proven to prevent 7 out of 10 pre cancers and cancers developing.
- The HSE HPV vaccination programme commenced in 2010 and since then more than 240,000 girls have been fully vaccinated against HPV.
- There has been constant safety monitoring of the vaccine in Ireland and worldwide since the vaccine was introduced over ten years ago. This has shown there has been no increase in the number of girls developing any long term medical condition (including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome -CFS). There is no scientific evidence that the HPV vaccine causes CFS.
HPV vaccine side effects
While the vaccine has been proven to be safe and most recipients don’t experience any side effects, like any other kind of vaccine, some may experience some short term issues after they receive the vaccine.
Short-term side effects
- Some people have an area of soreness, swelling and redness in their arm where the injection was given. This is nothing to worry about as this usually passes after a day or two.
- Some people may get a headache, feel sick in their tummy or have a slight temperature.
- Occasionally, some people may feel unwell and faint after getting their injection. To prevent this, you should sit down and rest for 15 minutes after the vaccination.
- Severe allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare. School vaccination teams are trained to treat any severe allergic reaction. If you are worried, talk to your GP or a member of the school team.
HPV Frequently Asked Questions:
Here are some helpful facts to help you come to grips with HPV and it’s vaccine.
1. How many years does protection last after vaccination/ how many years protection does vaccination afford someone?
Studies suggest that HPV vaccines offer long-lasting protection against HPV infection and therefore disease caused by HPV infection. Studies of the vaccines have followed vaccinated individuals for more than 10 years and have found no evidence of protection decreasing over time. Duration of protection provided by HPV vaccination will continue to be studied.
2. Should someone have a booster?
Right now no booster is recommended as again studies of the HPV vaccines have found no evidence of protection decreasing over time. Research will continue to look at how long protection against HPV lasts, and if booster injections will be required.
3. If someone has not completed a vaccine course, with an interval of multiple years, what should they do?
According to the Centre for Disease Control in America (CDC), who monitors vaccine safety, if a single dose of the vaccine was received then the schedule to complete vaccination is as follows:
- If the first dose of any HPV vaccine was given before the 15th birthday, vaccination should be completed according to a 2-dose schedule. In a 2-dose series, the second dose is recommended 6–12 months after the first dose (0, 6–12 month schedule)
- If the first dose of any HPV vaccine was given on or after the 15th birthday, vaccination should be completed according to a 3-dose schedule. In a 3-dose series, the second dose is recommended 1–2 months after the first dose, and the third dose is recommended 6 months after the first dose (0, 1–2, 6 month schedule).
If years have passed since the one dose of the HPV vaccine was received then according to the CDC:
‘Vaccine doses do not need to be repeated (no maximum interval)’ which means you will require one more HPV vaccine if you received your one dose of the HPV vaccine before the age of 15. You will require 2 more HPV vaccine injections if you received your one dose of the HPV vaccine after the age of 15. The minimum intervals should be 12 weeks between the second and third dose’ .
4. Should they continue with the vaccine type they were given previously or change e.g. to Gardasil 9 which protects against more serotypes? Is there any disadvantage to switching to Gardasil 9?
Any licensed HPV vaccine can be used to complete the vaccination series with the same recommended schedule and dosing intervals, so there is no disadvantage to completing your vaccination programme with Gardasil 9.
5. Am I too old to be vaccinated?
In October 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that the approved age for the HPV vaccine had been increased up to age 45 for women and men. In June 2019, a key advisory committee for the US Centre’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the vaccine for all men and women up to age 26. The panel also advised women between 27 and 45 to ask their doctor’s advice about getting the vaccine’
6. How much protection does 1 dose give?
There are limited studies into the protection offered by one dose of the HPV vaccines. Most studies to date are based on the 2 dose schedule if administered before the 15th birthday or the 3 dose schedule if administered after the 15th birthday. This is the recommended schedule. A one dose schedule of the HPV vaccine is not recommended as it is not the full course of the vaccination. However, one recent study cited by the National Cancer Institute of America stated the following:
‘More than a decade after vaccination, women who had received a single dose of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine continued to be protected against cervical infection with the two cancer-causing HPV types targeted by the vaccine, HPV16 and 18.
Vaccines are strictly monitored and reviewed regularly by those international bodies including the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) in Ireland.
To learn more about the myths surrounding the HPV vaccine and how just how effective the vaccine is, click here.
More information on HPV vaccine is available at www.immunisation.ie.
You can download the information booklet for parents and guardians about the HPV vaccination here and you can read the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) for the Gardasil vaccination here.
For useful statistics on HPV in Ireland, read HPV Aware findings
For parents, you can find the 5 things you need to know about HPV on the HPV Aware Parents factsheet
The Marie Keating Foundation are members of the HPV Vaccination Alliance; a group of organisations that have come together to sign a Contract Against Cancer, specifically HPV- related cancers. To find out more, click here.