Summary

  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps prevent the types of HPV that cause most of the HPV-related cancers and disease in men and women. 
  • The HPV vaccine is most effective when given to adolescent boys and girls before they become sexually active. The recommended age is 12 to 13 years. 
  • In Victoria, the HPV vaccine is available for free to all adolescents in year seven of secondary school (aged 12 to 13 years). 
  • If you are a woman aged 25 to 74, you will need to have your first Cervical Screening Test two years after your last Pap test.
  • Once you have had your first Cervical Screening Test, you will only need to have one every five years, if your results are normal.
     

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections occur in both men and women. It is common to be infected with one or more types of genital HPV shortly after becoming sexually active.

Most HPV infections cause no symptoms and are cleared naturally from the body in one to two years without the person knowing they were infected. 

Some types of HPV can cause genital warts and other types can cause some cancers. These cancers include cervical cancer in women, and cancers of the genital area, mouth and throat in men and women.

The HPV vaccine (GARDASIL®9) protects against seven types of HPV. These cause over 90 per cent of cervical cancers in women and over 90 per cent of HPV-related cancers in men. The vaccine also protects against another two HPV types which cause 90 per cent of genital warts. 

HPV and cancer

Depending on their ability to cause cancer, some types of HPV are classified as:
  • low risk – some low risk types of HPV can cause minor changes to cells or cause genital warts. Low-risk infections cannot lead to cancer. Infections caused by low-risk HPV types are usually cleared naturally from the body within one to two years
  • high risk – some high-risk types of HPV (including types 16 and 18) can take longer to clear from the body. In some people, infection with these HPV types remains for a long time. In these cases, there is a higher risk of developing significant cell changes (dysplasia). Dysplasia can progress to invasive cancer if it is not detected and treated.

It is rare for HPV infection to lead to cervical cancer. If it does, it usually takes ten years or more.

In December 2017 the Cervical Screening Test replaced the Pap test in screening for cervical cancer. The Pap test used to look for cell changes in the cervix. The Cervical Screening Test looks for HPV, which can lead to cell changes in the cervix.

Immunisation against HPV

The HPV vaccine GARDASIL®9 protects against seven types of HPV, which cause:

  • over 90 per cent of cervical cancers in women 
  • over 90 per cent of HPV-related cancers in men. 

The vaccine also protects against another two types of HPV which cause 90 per cent of genital warts

The HPV vaccine is most effective when given to all young people before they become sexually active and are exposed to HPV. The recommended age for vaccination is 12 to 13 years. This is when the body produces the greatest immune response to the vaccine. The vaccine prevents disease but does not treat existing HPV infections.

Since the introduction of the HPV vaccination program in 2007:

  • the number of young Victorian women (under 18 years) with high-grade cervical abnormalities has almost halved
  • the incidence of genital warts in heterosexual men and women less than 21 years has been reduced by 90 per cent. 

The vaccine's impact on cancers will not be seen for some decades, as HPV-related cancers can take over 10 years to develop.

Immunisation against HPV using Gardasil®9 involves:

  • a course of two injections a minimum of six months apart for children under 15 years of age, or 
  • a course of three injections over a six-month period for people from 15 years of age. 

Immunisation is also recommended for people who are at increased risk, such as adults with compromised (weakened) immune systems. 

People with a compromised immune system need three doses of the HPV vaccine to be adequately protected, regardless of their age. The doses should be given with a minimum interval of two months between doses one and two, and a minimum of four months between doses two and three.

How long will vaccine protection last?

Recent studies have shown good continuing protection against HPV lasting for over 10 years to date. Studies are ongoing to determine if a booster dose will be necessary in the future but this is not thought to be likely.

How safe is the HPV vaccine?

It is safe and well tolerated. Worldwide over 200 million doses have been given over the last decade. The vaccine does not contain HPV but appears similar enough to the virus so that the body produces antibodies, which prevent HPV infection.

Will girls need cervical screening tests later in life?

Yes, because the vaccine doesn’t prevent all types of HPV infection that cause cervical cancer, cervical screening tests are still essential for women later in life. Having regular cervical screening tests further reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer.

Who is eligible for the free HPV vaccine?

In Victoria, the HPV vaccine is available for free to all adolescents in year seven of secondary school (aged 12 to 13 years) under the National Immunisation Program. The two-dose course of the vaccine is given at school. It can also be given by a local doctor or at a council immunisation session. Contact your state or territory health department for more information about HPV vaccination at your school.

People under 20 years of age who missed the vaccine at secondary school can access free catch-up doses at their local doctor or at a community immunisation session. From 15 years of age the Gardasil®9 vaccine is given as a three-dose course. 

People from 20 years of age are not eligible for free vaccination through the National Immunisation Program, so they will have to pay for the vaccine. The HPV vaccine is licensed for males aged 9 to 26 years and females aged 9 to 45 years.

Pregnancy and HPV immunisation

Immunisation against HPV is not recommended for women who are pregnant. If you become pregnant after starting the HPV vaccination course, you should not receive any further doses of the vaccine while pregnant. You can complete the course of vaccination after the birth of your baby. The HPV vaccine can be given to women who are breastfeeding.

Pre-immunisation checklist

Before receiving the vaccine, tell your doctor or nurse if the person having the vaccination:

  • is unwell (temperature over 38.5 C)
  • has allergies to any other medications or substances
  • has had a serious reaction to any vaccine
  • has had a serious reaction to any component of the vaccine
  • has had a severe allergy to anything
  • has a disease, or is having treatment, that causes low immunity
  • is taking any prescription or non-prescription medication
  • is pregnant or intend to become pregnant.

Side effects of the vaccine against HPV

Immunisation against HPV is effective and safe, although all medication can have unwanted side effects. Common side effects following immunisation are usually mild and temporary (occurring in the first few days after vaccination). Specific treatment is not usually required.
 
Side effects may include:

  • localised pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
  • low-grade temperature (fever)
  • mild headache
  • mild nausea.

Managing fever after HPV immunisation

If you experience fever after immunisation, treatment options that can reduce its effects include:

  • drinking extra fluids 
  • not overdressing
  • although routine use of paracetamol after vaccination is not recommended, if fever is present, paracetamol can be given. Check the label for the correct dose or speak with your pharmacist (especially when giving paracetamol to children).

Managing injection site discomfort after HPV immunisation

Many vaccine injections may result in:

  • soreness
  • redness
  • itching
  • swelling 
  • a burning sensation 

at the injection site for one to two days. Paracetamol might be required to ease the discomfort.

Concerns about side effects of immunisation

If a side effect following immunisation is unexpected, persistent or severe, or if you are worried about someone’s condition after a vaccination, see your doctor or immunisation nurse as soon as possible or go directly to a hospital.

You can report immunisation side effects to SAEFVIC, the Victorian vaccine safety and central reporting service. In other states or territories, you can discuss with your immunisation provider how to report adverse events. 

It is important to seek medical advice for anyone who is unwell after vaccination, as this may be due to other illness rather than because of the vaccination.

Rare side effects of immunisation

There is a very small risk of a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to any vaccine. This is why you are advised to stay at the clinic or medical surgery for at least 15 minutes following immunisation, in case further treatment is required. 

Immunisation and HALO

The immunisations you may need are decided by your health, age, lifestyle and occupation. Together, these factors are referred to as HALO.
 
Talk to your doctor or immunisation provider if you think you, or someone in your care, have health, age, lifestyle or occupation factors that could mean immunisation is necessary. You can check your immunisation HALO using the Immunisation for Life infographic (pdf) downloadable poster. 

Where can I get more information about HPV immunisation?

Find out more about immunisation by speaking with your health professional. The best place to start is with your GP. You can also ask your:

  • maternal and child health nurse
  • paediatrician
  • local community health centre 
  • local council immunisation service.

There is a lot of information online. When looking for immunisation information, stick to reliable information providers, such as:

You can also call:
References

More information

Immunisation

The following content is displayed as Tabs. Once you have activated a link navigate to the end of the list to view its associated content. The activated link is defined as Active Tab

Immunisation basics

Timing and schedules

Immunisation throughout life

A-Z of immunisations and vaccines

Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Department of Health and Human Services - RHP&R - Health Protection - Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit

Last updated: October 2020

Content on this website is provided for information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not in any way endorse or support such therapy, service, product or treatment and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. The information and materials contained on this website are not intended to constitute a comprehensive guide concerning all aspects of the therapy, product or treatment described on the website. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions and to ascertain whether the particular therapy, service, product or treatment described on the website is suitable in their circumstances. The State of Victoria and the Department of Health & Human Services shall not bear any liability for reliance by any user on the materials contained on this website.