The HPV Vaccine

This page provides information about the HPV virus and the HPV vaccine.

Cervical cancer and the HPV virus

Each year in Ireland, around 300 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is caused by a very common virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). Anyone who is sexually active can contract HPV through contact with someone who already has the virus.  Most people are infected with HPV at some point in their lives, but may never know they have been infected. Like other viral infections, such as a cold, HPV is usually cleared by the body’s immune system without the need for other treatment. However, a small percentage of people do not clear the infection, which can remain ‘dormant’ (inactive) in their bodies sometimes for many years. We do not know why some people’s immune systems clear the infection and some people’s do not.

There are over 200 types of HPV virus. Two types- HPV16 and HPV18 cause 70% of all cancers of the cervix. A HPV infection can cause changes to the cells of the cervix, creating abnormalities. Once these abnormalities become severe they can develop into cancer.

The HPV virus can also cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, penis and the throat. HPV infection can now be prevented by vaccination.

The HPV vaccine

HPV vaccines are now available which are more than 99% protective against infection with cancer-causing HPV virus types. Gardasil (HPV4) vaccine contains virus-like particles of HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18.  It is also designed to provide protection against genital warts, which are caused by low-risk types of HPV.

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 impact of HPV vaccines on precancerous changes in the cervix is now well established in countries including Australia, Denmark and Scotland where precancerous growths of the cervix have been reduced by more than 50%.

The vaccine is recommended by

  • the World Health Organization
  • the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  • the National Immunisation Advisory Committee

The World Health Organization considers HPV vaccines to be extremely safe and recommends  that HPV
vaccines should be included in national immunization programmes. (May 2017) . Read more here. 

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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.

The HPV vaccine in Ireland

The vaccine used for the school programme in Ireland is called Gardasil. It is manufactured by MSD. The Patient Information Leaflet and the Summary of Product Characteristics are available here

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.
  • The HPV vaccine prevents 7 out of 10 pre cancers and cancers developing.
  • The HSE HPV vaccination programme commenced in 2010 and since then 660,000 doses of Gardasil® have been administered and 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.
  • The HPRA has received 1,096 reports of suspected adverse reactions in association with Gardasil:
  • The vast majority of reports are consistent with the expected pattern of adverse effects,
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) estimated prevalence 0.2- 0.4% => expect 400-800 cases to occur by chance.
  • The reported numbers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome after HPV vaccine are much less than expected.

All national and international regulatory bodies have stated HPV vaccines are safe.

In January 2017 all 69 US National Cancer Institute NCI-designated Cancer Centers Endorsed HPV Vaccination.

In 2018 all 70 US National Cancer Institute NCI-designated Cancer Centers endorsed goal of eliminating HPV related cancers by HPV vaccination and screening.

Click here to view a HPV fact sheet from the HSE

More information on HPV vaccine is available at www.immunisation.ie. You can view information and video about HPV from the HSE here.

[Reference: National Immunisation Office (HPV.ie) and Dr Brenda Corcoraam, Consultant in Public Health Meidicine, HSE National Immunisation Office].

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 Gardisil vaccination here.

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.