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HPV vaccine safety

The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine currently used in the NHS vaccination programme is called Gardasil.

Gardasil has been the HPV vaccine used in the NHS vaccination programme since 2012.

Prior to September 2012, a vaccine called Cervarix was used.

Sometime during the 2021 to 2022 academic year, the HPV vaccine used in the NHS programme will switch to Gardasil 9.

How do we know the HPV vaccines are safe?

A vaccine can only be used in people if scientific tests, called clinical trials, show it's safe and effective, and the benefits outweigh any risks.

The data from these trials is then looked over by a European Medicines Agency (EMA) group called the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use.

If the committee is happy the trials show a vaccine is safe, it'll grant a licence for use in the UK.

Gardasil 9, Gardasil and Cervarix all have EMA licences for use in the UK.

The safety record of the HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine has been used worldwide for many years in countries such as Australia, Canada, the UK, the US and most of western Europe.

More than 100 million people have been vaccinated worldwide.

A number of authorities around the world, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the EMA, have monitored the use of the HPV vaccine very closely for many years.

They use lots of different kinds of safety data and continue to say the HPV vaccine is very safe.

As with all medicine and vaccines, there are some mild side effects associated with the HPV vaccination.

Find out more about the possible side effects of the HPV vaccine

Can the HPV vaccine cause long-term (chronic) conditions?

Many different clinical trials and scientific studies have looked to see if there are any links between the HPV vaccination and other conditions, including:

They have found no increase in cases of these conditions among people who have been vaccinated against HPV compared with people who have not.

The WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety regularly reviews the emerging international evidence on the safety of HPV vaccination.

In March 2017, it issued a statement concluding there's no evidence of any link between the HPV vaccination and these conditions.

Monitoring safety of HPV vaccines

The Yellow Card Scheme allows doctors, other healthcare professionals and members of the public to report suspected side effects from any medicine taken, including vaccines.

It's run by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). 

The scheme regularly reviews the reports and, if there's a potential problem, will carry out an investigation and take appropriate action if necessary.

There's also a legal requirement for pharmaceutical companies to report serious and suspected adverse events to the MHRA.

Find out how to report a vaccine side effect

What difference has the HPV vaccine made so far?

The UK HPV vaccination programme began in 2008, and there's evidence from England, Scotland and other countries’ national vaccination programmes that the vaccine is making a difference.

There's been a large drop in the rates of infection with the 2 main cancer-causing HPV types in women and men and a large drop in the number of young people with genital warts.

A recent Scottish study found an 89% reduction in severe cervical abnormalities in vaccinated women.

The UK programme is expected to eventually prevent hundreds of deaths from cervical cancer every year.

It can take many years for cervical cancer to develop after HPV infection, so it'll take some time to find out the overall benefits of the vaccination programme.

Page last reviewed: 10 May 2019
Next review due: 10 May 2022