Bernie Carter, M.Sc.
Senior Oncology Nurse, Marie Keating Foundation
HPV vaccination saves lives. Get the facts and not the false stories. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. HPV vaccination is cancer prevention.
What is HPV?
HPV (human papillomavirus) is a group of highly contagious and very common viruses.
There are more than 100 types of HPV, of which at least 14 can cause cancer. HPV types that can cause cancer are also known as ‘high risk HPV types’. (1)
Most people (at least 80%) will be infected with a form of HPV in their lifetime. HPV infection is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s. (2)
How is HPV transmitted?
HPV is transmitted through intimate sexual skin to skin contact during vaginal, oral or anal sexual intercourse or genital contact with an infected person. Anyone who is sexually active can contract it. Condom use reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of transmission of HPV (2).
Most HPV infections do not need treatment because your body can clear the virus on its own. However, in some people, the HPV infection can develop into cancer or genital warts. (2)
Which cancer types are associated with or caused by HPV?
HPV causes 1 in 20 cancers worldwide. (2) A report in 2017 by the National Cancer Registry (NCRI) estimated that HPV infection cause up to 420 cancer cases (or up to 130 cancer deaths) per year in Ireland. Most of which are potentially preventable by HPV vaccination.
Virtually all cases of cervical cancer (>99%) are caused by sexually acquired infection with certain types of HPV. (2)
Two HPV types (HPV 16 and 18) cause 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions.
Vaccines that protect against HPV 16 and 18 are recommended by WHO and have been approved for use in many countries. (1)
HPV can also cause cancer in boys and men. HPV infection can cause cancer of the anus, throat, penis and head and neck. By vaccinating both boys and girls – the better we can control the spread of HPV infection. (2)
HSE school’s vaccination programme
The HPV vaccine has been offered to girls in their first year of secondary school since 2010.
HPV vaccine has now also been offered to boys in their first year since September 2019.
The vaccines protect against types of HPV that cause nine out of 10 cervical cancers. Used with regular cervical screening later in life, the HPV vaccine is an effective way to prevent cervical cancer developing. (2). They can also protect boys from cancer types caused by high risk HPV and from genital warts.
The HPV vaccine is free for girls right up to sixth year, if not vaccinated in 1st year. It is currently only free for boysin their first year.
Two doses of the vaccine are required if under age 15, three doses are necessary for age 15 and older. (2)
Is the HPV vaccine safe?
The HPV vaccine has been studied internationally in over 1 million people since it was first introduced in 2006.
There is no scientific evidence in Ireland, or in any other country, that indicate that the HPV vaccine causes any long-term medical condition. (6)
Vaccines are strictly monitored and reviewed regularly by international bodies including:
- World Health Organization
- European Medicines Agency
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA
A number of studies have been conducted that show there is no link between the HPV vaccine and chronic fatigue like conditions. A recent study in the US in June of this year also shows that there is no association between HPV vaccination and infertility in US females between 18–33 years old. (6,7)
Over 84 countries now have an HPV vaccine programme, with more than 20 of these countries giving the vaccine to both boys and girls (2)
Recent research carried out for more than 12 years to June of this year also indicate that there is no evidence of waning immunity, suggesting that there is currently no need for a booster dose of the HPV vaccine. (6)
(1) WHO – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-papillomavirus-(hpv)-and-cervical-cancer
(2) HSE – https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/pubinfo/schoolprog/hpv/hpv-human-papillomavirus/
(3) NCRI – https://www.ncri.ie/sites/ncri/files/pubs/HPV-associated%20Cancer%20Trends%20Report_NCR_4May2017.pdf
(5) CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/cases.htm
(6) HSE – HPV vaccine safety – https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/hcpinfo/othervaccines/hpv/hpvsafety/
(7) US study into infertility link with HPV vaccination: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X2030414X