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What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name given to a group of viruses that affect both females and males.

HPV is spread through close contact with genital skin during sexual activity with someone who has the virus. The virus passes through tiny breaks in the skin and is not spread through blood or other body fluids. Condoms offer limited protection, as they do not cover all of the genital skin.

Most people who are sexually active will have a genital HPV infection at some time in their lives. While the body usually clears the infection naturally and there are no symptoms, it can sometimes cause serious illness, including:

  • almost all cases of cervical cancer
  • 90% of anal cancers
  • 65% of vaginal cancers
  • 60% of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat)
  • 50% of vulva cancers
  • 35% of penile cancers
  • almost all cases of genital warts

For more information about HPV and cancer visit Cancer Council Australia – What is HPV?.

Which HPV vaccine has been used?

Gardasil9® (9vHPV) is a vaccine that protects against9 types of HPV which cause around 90% of cervical cancers in women, 95% of all HPV-related cancers in men and 90% of genital warts for all people.  

Gardasil has been given as part of the National Immunisation Program since 2017. Data on HPV vaccination coverage in NSW is available on HealthStats NSW.

What is changing and why?

From 2023 onwards, one dose of the HPV vaccine will be given instead of two-doses.

International research shows that one dose of any HPV vaccine provides the same protection as a two-dose course. Based on this evidence, other comparable countries such as the United Kingdom have also commenced transitioning to a one dose HPV vaccine schedule in 2023.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has reviewed the most recent international evidence and has recommended that the recommended dose be changed to a single dose. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) has endorsed this change.

Should all students receive one dose of HPV vaccine?

A small number of young people who are immunocompromised are still recommended to have a three-dose course of HPV vaccine to be protected. See Recommendations for HPV vaccination for adolescents with significant immunocompromise.

What about adolescents who have previously received two doses of HPV vaccine?

Adolescents who have previously received two doses are still protected and considered up to date. There are no safety concerns for young people who have received two doses. 

What does this mean for young people who have already had one dose?

Many students have already received one dose of HPV vaccine in Year 7. Students who have missed their second dose of HPV vaccine no longer need it, and therefore do not need to do anything. They will be considered as up to date and fully vaccinated.

What about adolescents and individuals who have not received HPV vaccine?

If HPV vaccination has been missed at school, only one dose in total is now needed. Catch-up should occur as soon as possible. Some schools will host catch-up clinics, otherwise parents should contact their local GP or pharmacist to arrange vaccination.

Who is eligible to receive HPV vaccines at school?

Free vaccine is available through the NSW School vaccination program to all students enrolled in Year 7. For students to be vaccinated, consent must be provided by the parent/guardian.

Consent can be completed online. Paper based and translated consent forms are also on request from the school for those who are unable to provide online consent.

For more information visit NSW School Vaccination Program.

Recommendations for HPV vaccination for adolescents with significant immunocompromise

Adolescents who are significantly immunocompromised are recommended to have three doses of HPV vaccine. Dose 2 will be given at least 4 weeks after the first dose, and dose 3 will be given at least 12 weeks after dose 2 or 6 months after dose 1 (whichever is later).

Significant immunocompromise (regardless of age of commencing HPV vaccination) is defined as those with:

  • primary or secondary immune-deficiencies (B lymphocyte antibody and T lymphocyte complete or partial deficiencies)
  • HIV infection
  • people with cancer
  • organ transplantation
  • autoimmune disease
  • significant immunosuppressive therapy (excluding asplenia or hyposplenia).

Why are students vaccinated in Year 7 to prevent this sexually transmitted infection?

National and international recommendations advise that the best way to prevent HPV infection is to vaccinate young adolescents against HPV before they become sexually active. Studies show that the body’s immune reaction to the vaccine is best between 9 and 14 years of age.

Catch-up vaccination extended up to 25 years

The catch-up program for adolescents who missed vaccination has been extended to include young people up to, and including, 25 years of age. If you are eligible for a catch-up vaccine, discuss with your local GP or pharmacist.

If vaccination is provided through a GP or pharmacist, the vaccine will be free, but you may be charged a consultation fee.

People aged over 25 years

HPV vaccination is not routinely recommended for people aged over 25 years of age. This is because HPV infection generally occurs soon after sexual activity commences, and vaccine effectiveness will be lower if there has been a prior infection. Individuals should speak to their GP for advice related to their particular circumstances. 

After 25 years of age the HPV vaccines is not funded under the National Immunisation Program and will require a private prescription.

Cervical screening

Regular cervical screening (previously called Pap smears) is still important for vaccinated women, as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. All women from 25 to 74 years of age or who have ever been sexually active should have a Cervical Screening Test every 5 years, regardless of their HPV vaccination status.

Who can I contact for more information?

You can contact your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 to discuss any questions you may have.

Current as at: Monday 1 May 2023
Contact page owner: Immunisation