Vaccine against HPV (human papilloma virus)
Schoolchildren in 7th grade are offered a vaccine to protect themselves against cancers caused by HPV (human papilloma virus).
When children are offered a vaccine, their opinion must be considered.
How is the vaccine given?
The vaccine will be injected in your upper arm. If you are under 15-years-old, two doses are given, with a gap of at least six months in between. Before vaccination, your school health nurse will ask if you are feeling well and if you have reacted to any other vaccines. Tell the nurse if you have any allergies, use medicines or have any other health problems.
You can take the vaccine if you have a cold or are feeling slightly unwell. It is common to postpone vaccination if you are ill or have a fever over 38 degrees.
You can exercise after vaccination if you feel up to it.
Protects against several types of cancer
HPV is a very common virus and there are many different strains. The virus is easily transmitted by sexual contact and most people will have one or more HPV infections during their life. Young people are those most commonly infected.
Many people who are infected display no symptoms. Most HPV infections usually clear up within a few months. Sometimes the infection can persist and lead to pre-cancerous lesions and cancer.
The HPV vaccine can protect against the following HPV-related cancer forms:
- Cervical cancer
- Cancer of the rectum, mouth and throat
- Cancer of the vagina and external genitalia
More about cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV
Every year in Norway, approximately 350-400 people will develop cervical cancer and 60-100 will die.
More than 7,000 people undergo surgery for severe pre-cancerous lesions every year. Pregnant women who have had this surgery may be at increased risk of miscarriage or premature birth.
Every year, between 200 and 300 people develop HPV-related cancer in other organs than the cervix. These include the mouth, throat, rectum, vagina, external genitalia and penis. These cancer cases are equally distributed regardless of gender. Mouth and throat cancer are most common in men and the number of cases is increasing.
How does the HPV vaccine work?
The HPV vaccine is a preventive medicine. It gives the best protection when given before exposure to infection. Children are offered the HPV vaccine in the 7th grade as part of the Childhood Immunisation Programme, before they become sexually active.
The vaccine consists of proteins that resemble those on the surface of the virus. The vaccine does not contain live viruses and cannot cause HPV infection.
The vaccine gives an equally good immune response among all children. Studies of pre-cancerous lesions and cervical canser show that the vaccine provides more than 90 per cent protection if the vaccine is given before exposure to HPV infection.
It has so far been shown that the HPV vaccine is effective in more than 13 years after vaccination and there is no evidence yet that protection is impaired over time. The follow-up of vaccinated individuals so far, shows that a booster dose is not necessary later in life to maintain protection. Recent international studies show good protection already after the first dose.
Like all medicines, vaccines may cause side effects. The most common side effects from the HPV vaccine are temporary:
- Tenderness, redness and swelling of the arm at the site of vaccination. This is very common (experienced by more than 1 in 10 individuals)
- Headache, fatigue or muscle ache. This is very common (experienced by more than 1 in 10 individuals).
- Fever, joint pain, itching, rash, nausea, vomiting / diarrhoea or abdominal pain are common (experienced by 1-10 in 100 individuals)
Dizziness, feeling faint or fainting are usually due to discomfort or anxiety because of the injection, and not the vaccine.
Severe allergic reactions are extremely rare and arise shortly after vaccination. The school health nurse will ask you to wait for approximately 20 minutes after vaccination, and will be prepared to handle such situations.
There is no evidence to suggest that HPV vaccine is the cause of chronic or severe disease or increases the risk. Symptoms that arise after vaccination are not necessarily due to the vaccine but may be signs of a disease that needs medical attention. Consult your doctor if you are concerned. Healthcare professionals are obliged to report any suspected side effects to the medicine authorities.
Useful to know
- The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that the HPV vaccine should be included in national childhood immunisation programmes. Approximately 125 countries have included the vaccine in their programme and over 45 of them offer it to boys.
- The vaccine used in the Norwegian programme is Cervarix. More information about the vaccine is available from the Norwegian Medicines Agency’s website.
- Cervarix is used in the programmes of many countries and more than 110 million doses of this vaccine have been given.
- Some HPV types may lead to genital warts. Cervarix does not protect against this.
- None of the vaccines offered in the programme contain mercury as a preservative, including the HPV vaccine.
- Condoms do not provide complete protection against HPV infection because the virus is present on the skin around the genitals. Condoms protect against other sexually transmitted diseases.
- The HPV vaccine does not protect against all the HPV types that cause cancer. Women should still participate in the Cervical Screening Programme from the age of 25 years if they are invited.
- There are no screening programmes for the other HPV-related cancers.
HPV vaccination is recorded in the National Immunisation Registry SYSVAK. To parents / guardians: you can see the immunisation status for you and your children under the age of 16 years with the Vaccines service at www.helsenorge.no. You can also print a vaccination card in Norwegian and English.