HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine
HPV immunisation is free for ages 9 to 26. It’s provided through most schools in Year 7 or Year 8, and is also available from your doctor, nurse, or healthcare provider. HPV immunisation helps protect your tamariki against a number of cancers later in life.
What it protects you from
The vaccine protects against human papillomavirus – a group of very common viruses that infect about 4 out of 5 people at some time in their lives. It’s passed on through intimate skin-on-skin contact.
Most of the time you would not know that you have an HPV infection, and they often go away on their own. But sometimes they hang around and can lead to a range of cancers later in life.
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer caused by HPV. The virus can also cause head and neck cancer, and cancer in other parts of the body. About a third of all HPV cancers affect men. HPV can also cause genital warts.
For more information on cervical screening, including the new HPV screening test, visit the Time to Screen website.
The vaccine is very effective
The vaccine is very effective in preventing infection from the 9 types of HPV.
As HPV is common, the best way to protect your tamariki against HPV is to get them immunised.
When it’s given
The HPV vaccine is free for those aged 9 to 26 years old.
Lots of tamariki are offered the HPV vaccine at school, usually in Year 7 or 8. This is the best time for immunisation, as a pre-teen’s immune system is really effective at making antibodies in response to the vaccine and protection is long-lasting.
- Tamariki aged 9 to 14 years old need 2 doses. The second dose is given at least 6 months after the first dose.
- Rangatahi (young people) from age 15 years old need 3 doses. These are given over 6 months.
Public Health teams visit participating schools to immunise students usually in Year 7 or Year 8. Information and consent forms will be provided by your child’s school.
If your tamariki has missed a school vaccination, contact your school to see if there is a catch-up vaccination day.
Immunisations outside of school
If your school is not offering HPV immunisation, or your child has missed out for any other reason, they can easily catch up with a visit to your doctor, nurse, or healthcare provider.
This is also an option if you would like to be with your tamariki when they get their vaccination.
[Hinetaapora] Hi! I’m Hinetaapora. I’m going to talk to you about being immunised against HPV.
That's short for human papillomavirus.
A group of viruses that can live in skin cells
They’re passed on in different ways through skin to skin contact and they’re pretty common. Did you know, four out of five people get them in their teenage years? Most of the time you wouldn’t even know that they’re there and they usually go away on their own.
But sometimes they hang around, and then they can be really nasty.
[Ella] Oh, hi Hinetaapora, how can I help?
[Hinetaapora] I would like to know about the HPV immunisation.
[Ella] Well we give you this HPV immunisation, at school, about age 12 because we know that’s the best time for you to be protected. This is the age where you produce the best antibodies after your vaccinations.
Most people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. This can lead to genital warts, and for a few, this can cause cancer, especially cervical cancer.
More than 50 women in New Zealand die of cervical cancer every year, and lots more need hospital treatment.
[Hinetaapora] Right, so it’s pretty serious.
[Ella] It is.
[Hinetaapora] Is it just girls who can get HPV?
[Ella] No, boys get it too. They don’t get cervical cancer, but they can get cancer in other parts of their body if they get infected.
[Hinetaapora] So how does Immunisation work?
[Ella] The immune system protects us against germs by making special blood cells and antibodies.
The first time your body meets a germ, your body takes time to make the blood cells and antibodies to fight off that germ.
It’s during this time that the germs can sometimes make you unwell. But a healthy immune system will eventually fight off the germs.
Once your immune system has encountered a germ, it can recognise it the next time it sees it. Your immune system is able to fight off the germs before you become unwell. This is called immunity.
HPV immunisation works by making your body recognise the most common kinds of HPV that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. The HPV vaccine contains little particles that look the same as some of the particles on the outside of the real virus.
Because they are only particles and not the real virus you can’t get HPV from the vaccine. They’ll just help your immune system fight the HPV virus in the future.
[Hinetaapora] I’ve heard some kids can react badly to an injection.
[Ella] Hardly ever but it can happen.
You probably won’t have any side effects at all.
A few people feel a little dizzy, sick or get a fever or headache after their vaccination. This is normal, and should get better on its own.
[Ella] There are things you can do to help.
Make sure you have breakfast or lunch before your injection. Even a snack before or afterwards will help stop you feeling faint.
The injections are done in your upper arm, so wear a loose shirt, preferably with short sleeves.
Take things easy afterwards. Your nurse will keep an eye on you after the vaccination and will provide you with all the advice you need.
If you’ve reacted badly to an injection before, or even if you’ve just been ill lately, somebody in your family should ask the doctor or practice nurse if it’s OK for you to have the immunisation.
If you have asthma, allergies, or you’re getting over something not too serious like a common cold, you can still be immunised. Your parents can talk to the nurse if they would like more information.
But the important thing is that the benefits of immunisation are huge compared to the risks.
[Ella] It will take 2 injections a few months apart to be fully protected.
In very rare cases a problem can occur. But we nurses are trained to deal with it and, as I said, problems are very rare indeed.
They’re covered off in the form you will get to take home.
[Hinetaapora] So once you’ve been immunised. You’re covered right?
[Ella] Actually, that’s not the end of the story.
When girls become adults, they should get a smear test done every few years. This is another way to protect against the risk of cancer.
[Hinetaapora] So to get immunised, kids need to get the form signed, right?
[Ella] That’s right Hinetaapora. We can’t immunise any kid before the parents or guardians let the nurses know whether or not you can have the vaccines.
We’re handing these out to all kids to take home.
It has everything they need to know.
It has to be filled in, signed and brought back to school before we can do your immunisation.
Tell your parents to fill in Section A to get the immunisation done at school or Section B if they don’t want you to get it.
Either way, they must sign the form, and you have to bring it back to school.
But if your parents or guardians aren’t sure about anything, don’t worry.
They can talk to me or any school nurse, the doctor or the practice nurse.
They can even watch this video for themselves – online at www.health.govt.nz/immunisation
[Hinetaapora] You want to keep yourself healthy, right? Get your parents to sign the form so you can be immunised against HPV.
Which vaccine is used
The vaccine we use in New Zealand is Gardasil 9.
It’s given as an injection in your arm.
It’s important to have all required doses of the HPV vaccine to be fully protected.
The vaccine cannot cause HPV infection or cancer.
Side effects and reactions
Like most medicines, vaccines can sometimes cause reactions. These are usually mild, and not everyone will get them.
Mild reactions are normal and show that your child’s immune system is responding to the vaccine.
If your tamariki is going to have any reactions, they normally happen in the first few days after getting vaccinated. The vaccine itself is gone from your child's body within a few hours or days.
The most common reaction to an immunisation includes:
- a slight fever
- pain or swelling where the needle went in.
Other common reactions
Other common reactions of the HPV vaccine include:
- a headache
- feeling sick
- feeling tired
- fainting, dizziness (eating before is a good idea to prevent this)
- aches and pains.
Serious side effects are rare. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your doctor or nurse, or call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116.
Call 111 if you’re worried your child is having a serious reaction.
Serious allergic reactions are extremely rare. Only about 1 in 1 million people will experience this.
Your vaccinator is well-trained and knows what to look for and can treat an allergic reaction quickly if it happens.
Serious allergic reactions normally happen within the first few minutes of vaccination. This is why your tamariki need to wait for up to 20 minutes after immunisation.