Raising awareness of the HPV vaccination programme in secondary schools

The national human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme is due to begin in secondary schools across the East Riding after the Easter holidays.

In England, the HPV vaccine is offered to all 12 to 13-year-olds in Year 8 and 9 and follows a two-dose schedule. The second dose is usually 6 to 12 months after the first dose.

East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s public health team is working alongside schools and local health partners to raise awareness and understanding of the HPV vaccine, as well as uptake. The UK programme was first introduced in 2008 to protect girls against cervical cancer, but since the 2019/2020 academic year, both 12 to 13-year-old boys and girls in Year 8 have been eligible for the HPV vaccine in England. This is because research has shown that the vaccine helps protect both boys and girls from a number of cancers.

The HPV vaccine helps protect against infection by HPV, which is a very common group of viruses. HPV infections do not usually cause any symptoms, and most people won’t even know they are infected.

Some HPV infections can get better on their own, but other high-risk types of HPV can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancers later in life, such as cervical cancer, mouth and throat cancers and some cancers of the genitals. The vaccine also helps protect against genital warts.

More than 280 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been given worldwide, including 120 million doses in the US and over 10 million in the UK.

Local immunisations provider IntraHealth, who also lead on the schools’ flu vaccine programme, are running the HPV programme in East Riding secondary schools. Schools will share an e-consent link from Intrahealth ahead of their vaccination date, which will also include all the vaccination information parents need to read. The vaccine provider may also come into school to speak to students before the vaccination date to explain HPV and answer any questions. Alternative provision is in place for those who are not in mainstream school.

Speaking of the HPV programme, the council’s public health nurse consultant Zoe Stevens, said: “We really encourage parents to read the information they will be given though their school or on the NHS website and discuss it with their child, so they understand how it can protect them from infection or certain cancers, ahead of their adult life. HPV infection is very common, with more than 70% of unvaccinated people likely to get it in their life.”

Zoe adds: “The HPV vaccine is also making a real difference for cervical cancer, a medical study published in 2021 found that cervical cancer rates were 87% lower in young women who had been eligible for HPV vaccination when they were aged 12 to 13 years, compared to similar young women born a few years earlier who had not been offered vaccination.

“However, it is still important to attend a cervical screening appointment when invited from the age of 25, because this vaccine cannot protect against all strains of HPV. It also worth explaining that the HPV vaccine does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections.”

For those children that previously missed the HPV vaccinations in school, it is available for free through the NHS up until their 25th birthday (for girls born after 1 September 1991 and boys born after 1 September 2006). Contact the local school immunisation team IntraHealth, by calling 03333 583 397, option 2 then option 1, or email immunisations.eastriding@intrahealth.co.uk. Parents can also ask their child’s GP for a vaccine appointment.

The HPV vaccine and cervical screening

Women and people with a cervix, aged 25 to 64 in England are offered cervical screening tests. The HPV vaccines will prevent up to 90% of cervical cancer cases, but individuals should still attend for cervical screening when invited to do so. Cervical screening is not a test for cancer – it is a test to help prevent cancer.

For more information, visit the NHS website: 

Human papillomavirus (HPV) – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Cervical screening – NHS (www.nhs.uk)