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Gardasil - the new vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) - the new vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

GARDASIL Vaccine is now available at The Health Station. It is a hugely important medical advance. It is the first vaccine able to protect against a major cause of cancer in women.

It is normally given by one of our nurses, after assessment and consultation with you. You do not need to have a smear before you have the vaccine, but you may decide that it is an appropriate time for this.

What is HPV? | What does Gardasil do? | Who should get vaccinated? | Who should not receive Gardasil? | Possible side effects? | How is Gardasil given? | Other important points | Is there any other way to prevent HPV?

WHAT IS HPV?

HPV is a common sexually-transmitted virus that is passed on via genital contact. There are more than 100 HPV types and they infect genital areas and can cause genital warts, pre-cancerous abnormalities of cells in the female genitals (cervix or vulva) and cervical cancer. Sometimes they cause no harm and any infection goes away on its own. However, sometimes the virus persists and causes cells to change - this can lead to cervical cancer, genital pre-cancerous lesions and genital warts.

WHAT DOES GARDASIL DO?

GARDASIL is a vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV). It works by provoking the body's immune response to this virus, without actually causing HPV infection or any of the diseases.

When the body is exposed to foreign organisms, such as viruses and bacteria, the immune system produces antibodies against them. Antibodies help the body recognise and kill the foreign organisms. They then remain in the body to help protect the body against future infections with the same organism.

GARDASIL contains inactivated extracts from four different types of the human papilloma virus (HPV): - types 6, 11, 16 and 18. These four types of HPV cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts.

GARDASIL will not protect against diseases that are not caused by HPV (i.e. other cancers and other sexually transmitted diseases). GARDASIL may not protect against HPV types to which you have already been exposed. Unfortunately there is currently no test available to check which type you may or may not have.

WHO SHOULD GET VACCINATED?

GARDASIL has been shown in clinical trials to prevent the above diseases in adult women aged 16 to 26 years. The vaccine has also been shown to produce antibodies against HPV in children and adolescents aged 9 to 15 years. It is not known if these antibodies will prevent HPV disease in adult males. It is licensed for girls and women from 9 to 26 years of age. The vaccine is safe and effective in this age group. Ideally, females should get the vaccine before they become sexually active, i.e. before they can be exposed to HPV.

WHO SHOULD NOT RECEIVE GARDASIL?

  • Sudden feverish illness. (The vaccine should be postponed until after recovery.)
  • People allergic to vaccine ingredients
  • Pregnant women (Although it can be given to women who are breastfeeding. It has not been shown to have any effect on a nursing infant, or to be any less effective in women who are breastfeeding
  • People with an underactive immune system (for instance, those with HIV)
  • People taking certain medicines (such as chemotherapy or high dose steroids)
  • This vaccine is not recommended for children under nine years of age, as its safety and effectiveness have not been studied in this age group
  • Males (as it not yet licensed for this use)

Caution with:

  • People at risk of bleeding after an injection into a muscle, for example due to blood clotting disorders such as haemophilia or a reduced platelet count in the blood (thrombocytopenia).

POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS

This vaccine contains no live virus and so cannot cause infection with HPV or any of the diseases HPV can cause. It is usually well tolerated.

The most likely side effects include - pain, itching, swelling at the injection site, fever, nausea, and dizziness.

HOW IS GARDASIL GIVEN?

The vaccine is given by injection into the muscle of the upper arm or upper thigh. Three doses are needed. Ideally, the first two doses are given two months apart, and the third dose four months after the second dose. The first two doses are given at least one month apart with the third dose at least three months after the second dose. All three doses should be given within a one-year period.

OTHER IMPORTANT POINTS

The length of vaccine protection is not known yet. To date, research shows that it protects for at least 5 years. It is possible that a booster may be needed at some point in the future, to maintain protection. Long-term follow-up studies into this are ongoing.

Girls and women who have been vaccinated will still need regular cervical cancer screening - this is because the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV. It also won't protect you from any cancerous changes that may be caused by an HPV infection you may already have.

This vaccine can be safely given at the same time as the hepatitis B vaccine. If given at the same time, these vaccines should be given into different limbs.

This vaccine can be safely given to women taking oral contraceptives.

You should let your doctor know if you are taking any medicines, or have recently had any other vaccines, or have recently been given immunoglobulin or other blood products, before you are given this vaccine.

IS THERE ANY OTHER WAY TO PREVENT HPV?

The only sure way to prevent HPV is to abstain from sexual activity.

Sexually active adults can reduce their risk by limiting their number of sex partners and using condoms. Even people with only one partner can get HPV if their partner has been exposed to a previous partner with HPV.

This is why Gardasil represents such an important medical advance.