HPV vaccination FAQs

The pros and cons and options for vaccination against the HPV virus which causes cancers and genital warts.

Since 2008, the NHS has offered a free HPV vaccine to girls and the vast majority are vaccinated. Boys are not currently vaccinated but in July 2018, the government announced that boys in England would be offered the vaccine. This page will be updated once more detail is known. 


Should straight men get vaccinated?

Men in the UK are not eligible for free HPV vaccinations on the NHS. But it is still possible to get a private vaccination.

  • These are the main arguments for having a private vaccination:
  • Men are as susceptible to HPV infection as women and vaccination provides a high level of protection against the most dangerous HPV types that cause cancer, genital warts or RRP.
  • Vaccination offers protection against infection for at least 10 years and probably for much longer.
  • Vaccination is most effective when a male is aged under 15 because, at that age, he is unlikely to have been exposed to HPV. But vaccination is still a good idea for adults because it can protect against high-risk types of HPV that you may not have been exposed to yet. It can also prevent re-infection by a high-risk type that you may already have been exposed to but which your body has previously cleared.
  • Although men cannot get HPV from a woman who has been vaccinated, 15% of girls are not currently vaccinated in the UK. Also, men can get HPV from a woman who was too old to be vaccinated by the NHS (vaccination started for girls in the UK in 2008) or from a woman from another country where there is no vaccination programme for girls or a programme with a low uptake (in France, for example, only about a quarter of girls are vaccinated).
  • There is no screening programme for men that can detect cancers caused by HPV at an early stage (there is no male equivalent of the cervical cancer screening programme).
  • Vaccination could offer you peace of mind.
  • Vaccination is socially responsible – the more people who are protected, the less easily HPV can circulate in the whole population and affect unvaccinated men and women.

If you consider yourself to be straight but nevertheless have sex with other men, perhaps only occasionally, you could be at greater risk of HPV infection and the diseases it causes.  You should also read the following section.

Should men who have sex with men get vaccinated?

These are the main arguments for having a HPV vaccination if you have sex with men:

  • Men are as susceptible to HPV infection as girls and women and vaccination provides a high level of protection against the HPV types that cause cancer, genital warts or RRP. Men who have sex with men are at much greater risk of anal cancer in particular.
  • Men who have sex with men are not protected at all by the vaccination programme for girls. That only benefits men who have sex with women.
  • Vaccination offers protection against infection for at least 10 years and probably for much longer.
  • Vaccination is most effective when a boy is aged under 15 because, at that age, he is unlikely to have been exposed to HPV. But vaccination is still a good idea for adults because it can protect you against high-risk types of HPV that you may not have been exposed to yet. It can also prevent re-infection by a high-risk type that you may already have been exposed to but which your body has previously cleared.
  • There is no screening programme for men that can detect cancers caused by HPV at an early stage. There is no male equivalent of the cervical cancer screening programme so anal and other cancers caused by HPV are often diagnosed late.
  • Vaccination could offer you peace of mind.
  • Vaccination is socially responsible – the more people who are protected, the less easily HPV can circulate in the whole population and affect unvaccinated men and women.
  • The UK government’s vaccination advisory committee has decided that men up to 45 years of age who have sex with men should be offered HPV vaccination when they attend sexual health (GUM) and HIV clinics. This may be a way to get the vaccine free but the jab is supposed to be  available only for men who are at the clinic for another reason. (It is not supposed to be offered to men who turn up just asking for it.)
Are there arguments against vaccination?

Yes. These are the arguments against vaccination:

  • HPV vaccination for men is expensive. Typically, it costs about £150 per dose. Men aged 16 and over need three doses.
  • HPV vaccination can sometimes cause side-effects, almost always mild and short-lived such as soreness, swelling and redness in the arm. There is more information on the safety of the HPV vaccine here.
  • Most HPV infections do not lead to a health problem – only a small proportion of people with HPV go on to develop cancer or another disease caused by HPV.
  • Men who have sex with women who have been vaccinated will not be exposed to HPV. Most women now in their teens and early 20s, who were in school in the UK when they were 12/13 years old, have been vaccinated. However, until 2012, the make of vaccine (Cervarix) offered to girls in the UK did not protect against the HPV types that cause genital warts.
  • The older you are, and the more partners you have had, the more likely you are to have already been exposed to the high-risk HPV types. This means that vaccination may not actually be of any benefit. There is no way of knowing this, however.
  • Vaccination does not provide a cure or treatment for an existing HPV infection. HPV Action and other organisations advocate HPV vaccination for boys but they do not suggest that the national vaccination programme should be extended to all men.
Are vaccines safe?

There are occasional stories in the media suggesting that some teenage girls’ health has been seriously affected by the HPV vaccine but the overwhelming evidence from scientific and medical studies is that HPV vaccinations are, in fact, very safe. The European Medicines Agency, the World Health Organisation and the UK Department of Health believe that HPV vaccinations are safe. There are no known reports of any serious or long-term side-effects caused by HPV vaccination in adults.

The NHS says that the most common side effects of the HPV vaccine include swelling, redness and pain at the site of the injection, and headaches.

A much smaller group of people might experience fever, nausea (feeling sick) and painful arms, hands, legs or feet. More rarely still, some people develop an itchy red rash. Very rarely, in about one in 10,000 cases, there may be a restriction of the airways and breathing problems. One person in a million may have a severe allergic reaction.

These problems, which may be unpleasant and even distressing, are treatable through self-help (e.g. painkillers) or by healthcare staff. They are also short-lived and people make a full recovery. The staff who give the vaccines are trained to spot and deal with any allergic reactions. The small risk of having one of these side-effects must be balanced against the risk of developing a disease caused by HPV such as cancer.

Most (85%) 12/13 year-old girls in the UK are vaccinated each year. It is a very common procedure that for the vast majority of people is quick, painless and uneventful.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Your NHS GP service is very unlikely to be able to provide HPV vaccination for boys or straight men. If it is available, it would be on a private basis.

HPV vaccination is now provided for adult men at three national pharmacy chains: Boots, Lloyds and Superdrug.

The vaccination is also available from a number of private health centres and travel clinics. An online search along the lines of “Where can I get HPV vaccination privately in [insert nearest town/city] UK” should be helpful.

The private clinics very occasionally run out of the HPV vaccine but any delay is likely to be fairly short.

If you have sex with men as well as women, even if this is occasional, you may be eligible for free HPV vaccinations provided at sexual health (GUM) and HIV clinics. The vaccination service for men who have sex with men was set up because they are at greater risk of HPV infection and the diseases it causes.

Three types of vaccine are available:

Cervarix. This vaccine was used by the NHS in the early years of the girls’ vaccination programme. It protects against two HPV types (16 and 18) that can cause pre-cancers and cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus. Cervarix does not offer protection against the HPV types (6 and 11) that cause genital warts. It can be given from the age of 9.

Gardasil. This is the vaccine currently used for girls by the NHS for the national HPV vaccination programme. It can be given from the age of 9 and protects against infection by the four most significant HPV types, 16 and 18 that can cause cancer and 6 and 11 that can cause genital warts.  It is used to prevent pre-cancers and cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus as well as genital warts.

Gardasil 9. This is the newest HPV vaccine available. It protects against 9 HPV types, 16,18 and five others that can cause cancer and 6 and 11 that can cause genital warts. It can be given from the age of 9 years to prevent pre-cancers and cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus as well as genital warts.

The vaccine manufacturers do not claim that their products protect against the development of HPV-caused penile, head and neck cancers. However, most scientists, doctors and dentists believe that, due to the similarities in the diseases, the vaccines do offer protection against these cancers as well as penile and anal cancers. The UK government’s vaccination advisory committee (known as JCVI) is among those sharing this view.

If you are aged 16-45, the vaccine is given through a course of 3 injections over 4-12 months. The second dose is given at least one month after the first. The third is at least three months after the second dose (and ideally within 12 months of the first dose).

Where can I get more information?
The content of this article originally appeared on the Jabs For The Boys website which was validated for the Information Standard by the Men's Health Forum.

Date published 21/07/18
Date of last review 21/07/18
Date of next review 21/07/21

References

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