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
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
- 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,
- 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.
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
- 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:
- 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
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
- 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: