Who can get HPV vaccine as school programme moves from two doses to one

The HPV vaccine is offered to 12 and 13-year-old schoolchildren in Year 8. Credit: PA

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination given in schools will be given as one dose instead of two from September, health bosses have announced.

The vaccine – which is helping to virtually eliminate cervical cancer – will move to a single dose from September in England, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

It follows a similar move in Wales, which will also move to a one-dose jab schedule from September.

The UKHSA said the change in England follows advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and World Health Organisation scientists that a single dose “delivers robust protection” against HPV, compared with the two doses given at present.

Who can get the HPV vaccine?The HPV vaccine programme is offered to all children in school Year 8, when they are aged 12 to 13.

Boys in England began being offered the HPV vaccine in 2019.

The jab protects against cancer as well as sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Under the new plan, youngsters will be offered a single dose, while eligible gay, bisexual and other men under the age of 25 who have sex with men will also move to a single dose.

Older people in these groups, aged 25 to 45, will stay on a two-dose schedule.

People who are immunosuppressed or HIV-positive will still have three doses to ensure protection.

Anyone in the catch-up jab programme who has received one dose of the vaccine by September will be considered fully vaccinated.

Both Year 8 girls and boys are able to get the HPV vaccine. Credit: University of Warwick

What is the HPV vaccine for?The HPV vaccine helps prevent a range of cancers, such as cervical cancer, cancers of the head and neck (mouth and throat), and cancers of the anus and genital areas.

Around 13 high-risk types of HPV cause 99.7% of cervical cancers.

The NHS vaccination programme jab, Gardasil 9, protects against 9 types of HPV, including types: 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58.

The NHS says between them, types 16 and 18 are the cause of most cervical cancers in the UK (more than 80%). Types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58 cause an additional 15% of cervical cancers.

HPV also causes most anal cancers, and some genital and head and neck cancers.

A study published in The Lancet medical journal in 2021 found cervical cancer rates were 87% lower in young women who were eligible for HPV vaccination when they were aged 12 to 13, compared with young women who had not been offered the vaccine.

Overall, the study estimated that the HPV programme had prevented about 450 cancers and 17,200 pre-cancers up to mid-2019.

Why is the HPV vaccine given to children?

The vaccine does not treat HPV, it prevents it - which is why it is offered to younger age groups, rather than older adults.

The vaccine is offered to schoolchildren as experts say it is most effectively protects against cancer-causing HPV strains before young people are exposed to them when they become sexually active.

HPV types 6 and 11 cause around 90% of genital warts, so the vaccine is given early to help protect girls and boys against genital warts, ideally before they are ever exposed to the strains that cause them.

Contraceptives like condoms are an important protection against STIs and pregnancy, but offer limited protection against genital warts, one of the UK's most commonly diagnosed STIs.

That's because the warts are spread by skin-to-skin contact and can be passed on even when there are not visible.

HPV vaccination does not protect against other infections spread during sex, such as chlamydia, and it will not stop pregnancy, so health experts warn it's still very important to practise safe sex.

What is the rate of HPV vaccine uptake in the UK?

The HPV vaccine has been routinely offered in schools to girls aged 12 to 13 since 2008 and to boys the same age since September 2019.

The latest figures show that, in 2021-2022, some 82.2% of girls had received one dose by the time they were in Year 9.

Uptake is believed to have been affected by the Covid pandemic.

'HPV vaccine dramatically lowers cervical cancer rates'

Other countries, including Australia and Scotland, have already made the move to one dose, the UKHSA said.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, immunisation consultant epidemiologist at the UKHSA, said: “The HPV vaccination programme is one of the most successful in the world and has dramatically lowered the rates of cervical cancer and harmful infections in both women and men – preventing many cancers and saving lives.

“The latest evidence shows that one dose provides protection as robust as two doses. This is excellent news for young people.

“If you missed your HPV vaccine it is vital you get protected. Contact your school nurse, school immunisation team or GP practice to arrange an appointment – you remain eligible to receive the vaccine until your 25th birthday.”

Steve Russell, NHS national director for screening and vaccinations, said: “This is another step forward for our world-leading HPV vaccination programme, which saves lives by significantly reducing the risk of cervical cancer.

“With one quick HPV jab now making it simpler than ever to reduce your risk of cancers caused by the virus, it’s so important that people come forward when invited.

“Along with getting your HPV vaccine, it is also still vital to book in for your cervical screening appointment which checks for high-risk HPV and remains one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...