Everything you need to know about the HPV vaccine for children in Wales aged 12-13

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If you’re the parent or carer of a child in Wales who has just started in year 8 of secondary school, then later this academic year, you’ll receive an invitation for your child to receive the HPV vaccine in school.

In fact, you may well have seen it timetabled in the immunisation programme sent out by some schools in the last couple of weeks and wondered what it was all about.

When I received this email last year on behalf of my daughter I’ll admit, I had a lot of questions. 

The HPV vaccine was only widely introduced in 2008 – long after I’d left school, and although I knew a little about HPV, there was a lot I didn’t know. 

This time last year, I wasn’t even aware that since 2019 boys have also been having the vaccine. With the eldest of my two sons having just started in year 7, it’s something we’ve already started talking about. 

I’ve worked closely with Public Health Wales to put this blog post together to help other parents and their 12 and 13 year olds (as well as parents and children nearing that age who may already have questions) to feel more informed about HPV and the vaccination so that they can make an informed choice about it together. 

Read on for more information as Public Health Wales help to answer the most common questions around about HPV and the vaccination. For further information, you can visit the website here

Everything you need to know about the HPV vaccine for children aged 12-13 in Wales

What is HPV? 

HPV is the short name for viruses called Human Papillomavirus. HPV is very common and in some cases can cause certain types of cancers. HPV usually has no symptoms, and nearly everyone will come into contact with it at some point in their life. In fact, more than 70% of people who haven’t had the HPV vaccine will get HPV at some point in their life. It is usually spread through close skin-to-skin and intimate sexual contact. Regardless of when your child becomes sexually active, getting the HPV vaccine as a young person will give them the best protection from cancer causing strains of HPV before they come into contact with them. 

Its estimated that eight out of 10 people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives, and while most will clear the virus from their body, others may develop a range of cancers in later life caused by the HPV virus. 

What is the HPV vaccine?

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is highly effective at protecting against cancers caused by HPV, including cancer of the cervix, head and neck.

It has been offered to girls in Wales since 2008 and boys since 2019, with the vaccine meeting the UK’s high safety standards.

Why should boys have the vaccine? 

HPV can also lead to cancers of the neck, head and penis, along with genital warts, so boys also benefit from the vaccine. 

Who is eligible for the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is offered free to all boys and girls in Wales who are aged 12 to 13 years (school year 8) and will be given in school. Consent packs for pupils and their parents or carers will be supplied to secondary schools before the scheduled school HPV vaccination session. This may be paper based or in a digital format.

Are there any side effects?

Side effects are usually mild. The most common side effect is a sore, swollen or red arm at the site of injection. This usually wears off within a few days. Less common side effects are headaches, nausea and fever. Serious side effects are extremely rare.

Has it made a difference to cervical cancer rates?

Since the HPV vaccine was widely introduced in 2008, it has almost successfully eliminated cervical cancer in women born since September 1 1995. A recent study published in the Lancet has shown a reduction of 90% in cancer-causing HPV in young women in their 20s, who were vaccinated aged 12 to 13.

A number of long-term international studies show that one dose of the HPV vaccine creates antibodies that give lasting protection before people become sexually active. One dose of the HPV vaccine is more than 97% effective at protecting against the two strains of HPV that cause at least 70% of cervical cancer. 

How many doses of the vaccine will my child receive?

As of 1 September 2023, children in England and Wales will receive one dose of the vaccine.

This change (from two doses) is due to more than 10 years of research that  the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)  has reviewed, which has found that one dose of the vaccine provides excellent protection,

If your child is in school year 8 in September 2023, they will be offered one dose of the HPV vaccine. School nursing teams will roll out the vaccine programme between January and July 2024, as it is at this time of the year when HPV vaccines are given in secondary schools.

If your child is in school year 9 in September 2023 and they have already had one dose of HPV vaccine, they no longer need a second dose.

If your child or young person is in school years 9 to 13 and they have not yet had any doses of the HPV vaccine they only need to have one dose.

Children, young people and eligible adults who are immunosuppressed (have a weakened immune system) or HIV-positive should have three doses of the HPV vaccine. They can get these extra doses through their GP surgery.

Who decides whether my child gets the HPV vaccine?

It is important that the decision to get the HPV vaccine is a joint one between parent/carer and child and that you and they understand what the vaccine is for and how it can help protect your child from certain HPV-related cancers While consent from the parent/carer is important, in certain circumstances a child/young person can override the consent given/not given. For more information search consent here: www.111.wales.nhs.uk.

What if my child is home educated or doesn’t attend school?

Children and young people who are home educated or not currently attending school can have the HPV vaccine at their GP surgery by making an appointment with the practice nurse.

School-aged children and young people who are home-schooled or not currently attending school are also eligible for a nasal spray flu vaccine each autumn. Those aged 13 can also have a 3-in-1 vaccine (to boost protection against diphtheria, tetanus and polio) and MenACWY vaccine (to protect against some types of meningitis and septicaemia). Children and young people who are not attending a school can also get these vaccines at their GP surgery.

You can find more information about recommended routine vaccinations for young people here

What happens if my child misses the vaccine due to illness or holiday?

The school nursing immunisation team will offer other opportunities for children who miss the first date. This information will be communicated by the school on behalf of the School Nursing Immunisation Team.

My child didn’t have the vaccine when they were in year 8 but would like it now. Is that possible? 

Yes. They may have an opportunity to ‘catch-up’ in school or by booking an appointment with the practice nurse at your GP surgery. Anyone who was offered the vaccine in school can catch up in this way up until their 25th birthday.

If you have any further questions about HPV or the vaccine, you can speak to your local authority’s School Nursing Immunisation Team or visit the HPV website here 

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