Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
What is it for?
This vaccine prevents infections caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) — the most common cause of cervical cancers and genital warts.
There are about 100 different types of HPV, which can affect different parts of the body. About 40 types of HPV can infect the genitals and anus area in females and males. Some types of HPV can cause penile, anal, cervical, vulval and vaginal cancers. Others cause anal and genital warts.
There are two HPV vaccines available in Australia. The HPV vaccine given in schools as part of the National Immunisation Program, (Gardasil), protects against infection with the HPV types that cause 70% of cervical cancers, 90% of HPV-related cancers in males, and 90% of genital warts.
Watch the video produced by the Australian Government Department of Health, which explains how the HPV vaccine works for males and females to help protect against HPV-related cancers and disease.
Who is at risk of HPV infection?
HPV infection is extremely common: 4 out of 5 people (80%) will have a genital HPV infection during their lifetime, and they may not be aware that they have it.
HPV is spread by direct, skin-to-skin contact during all types of sexual activity with someone who has the virus. The more sexual partners you have, the higher your risk of HPV infection.
People with a weakened immune system (e.g. HIV infection) have a higher risk of HPV-related disease. Anal cancer caused by HPV is more common in men who have sex with men, compared with other men.
Ongoing cervical cancer screening for women
It’s important that all sexually active women younger than 70 years go to their doctor and have a Pap (Papanicolaou) smear test every 2 years – even if they have had the HPV vaccination. A pap smear can detect any abnormal cells in the cervix that might indicate cancer.
This is important because although the HPV vaccine protects you against the viruses that cause 70% of cervical cancers, it does not protect you against all the viruses that cause cervical cancer, and cervical cancer caused by HPV can take 2-20 years to develop. The vaccine cannot protect you against cervical cancer caused by HPV that was present before the vaccination.
Who should be vaccinated?
The HPV vaccination is:
- free for males and females aged 12-13 years through the National Immunisation Program
- free for males aged14-15 years till the end of 2014 through the National Immunisation Program
- recommended for all females aged 11-13 years and males aged 9-18 years
- recommended for all men who have sex with men
- recommended for people with a weakened immune system (e.g. HIV infection)
- not recommended for pregnant women
- safe for women who are breastfeeding.
The HPV vaccine is most effective in males and females who have never been sexually active and have not been exposed to the HPV viruses that can cause cancer or genital warts.
Males and females who are sexually active may have already been exposed to some of the HPV viruses. The vaccine will only protect against the HPV viruses contained in the vaccine that you have not been exposed to. The vaccine cannot protect you against the viruses that you have already been exposed to, or any cervical cancer caused by HPV that was present before the vaccination.
Males and females aged 12 to 13 years
The HPV vaccination Gardasil is free for all males and females aged 12 to 13 years, and is available through school-based programs in all states and territories as part of the National Immunisation Program. Males aged 14-15 years will also be able to have the vaccine at school under a catch-up program till the end of 2014.
Vaccination usually involves three injections given over 6 months.
The HPV vaccine is not recommended for women who are pregnant. If you have the vaccine before you know you are pregnant, you should wait till after the baby is born before having the remaining dose(s).
Read more about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.
Women who are breastfeeding
There is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with the HPV vaccine while you are breastfeeding.
Women who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine except the yellow fever vaccine.
Common side effects of the HPV vaccine (affecting 1 to 10 in every 100 people) include:
- soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site
- fever (a temperature 38.5°C or higher)
- mild headache
- mild nausea
- muscle or joint pain
Read more about vaccine side effects and safety.
Who can I ask about side effects?
If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).
- Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Australian Medicines Handbook, Pty. Ltd. January 2013. (Accessed May 2013)
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. National Immunisation Program. Human Papillomavirus (HPV). www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/immunise-hpv (Accessed May 2013)
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. 10th Edition. 2013. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-6 (Accessed May 2013)
- Australian Government. Immunise Australia Program. HPV school vaccination program. hpv.health.gov.au (Accessed May 2013)