The HPV vaccination reduces the chances of an HPV infection and lowers the risk of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, and infections by the human papillomaviruses (HPV) account for 99% of all cervical cancer cases.
HPV is a group of viruses that commonly affect different parts of the body. About 30 types of HPV can affect the genitals, including the vagina, vulva, cervix, penis, scrotum and anus. Out of these virus types, about 14 strains are considered “high risk”, leading to cervical cancer. HPV is also linked to anal and penile cancers, as well as some neck and throat cancers. Fortunately, HPV infections clear naturally in most people and even in those who don’t, not all of them will go on to develop cancer.
HPV is mainly transmitted through sexual contact. About 80% of people who are sexually active will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives, but most HPV infections show no symptoms. An HPV vaccination can protect you against 70-90% of high-risk HPV strains, greatly reducing your risks of contracting HPV. Research data suggests that HPV vaccines provide near 100% protection for many years.
Dr Neil Forrest, British GP based at Osler Health Star Vista Clinic to addresses common questions about the HPV vaccine.
Who should be vaccinated against HPV?
I recommend the HPV vaccination for all boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 14. Ideally, the vaccine should be administered before someone becomes sexually active for maximum effectiveness.
Why should boys be vaccinated against HPV?
While boys cannot develop cervical cancer, they can develop other HPV-related cancers, as well as genital warts. By vaccinating boys, their future partners can also be protected against HPV.
What are the types of HPV vaccination available in Singapore?
There are currently three types of HPV vaccinations available in Singapore:
Cervarix offers protection against two types of HPV strains, 16 and 18. It is currently only available to women up to the age of 26.
Gardasil 4 protects against four HPV types: 6, 11, 16 and 18. It is available to both men and women.
Gardasil 9 protects against HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18. On top of that, it also offers protection against four rarer, high-risk HPV strains: 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. It is available to both men and women.
Which HPV vaccine should I get?
Before deciding on the HPV vaccine to get, there are several factors to consider, such as the strains covered by each type of vaccine, price and how sexually active you are.
The HPV vaccine may not be suitable if you are pregnant or have severe allergies. Please consult your doctor if you are unsure.
How many doses of the HPV vaccination are required?
For children age 15 and under, two doses administered 6 months apart are required. For those over the age of 15, an additional dose is required.
Can I still go for an HPV vaccination if I’ve been sexually active?
Yes! Although sexually active adults may have already come in contact with HPV, it is unlikely that they will have contracted all 9 subtypes covered by the vaccine. So, the vaccine will still offer you protection against HPV strains that you have not yet been exposed to.
The HPV vaccine is currently available to adults up to the age of 26 in Singapore.
What are the possible side effects of the HPV vaccine?
Side effects are rare and include those that are common to most vaccines – pain and redness at the injection site, fever and aches. We do see a higher rate of fainting after the Gardasil vaccination, but this may be related to the fact that fainting is generally more common in adolescent girls. As a precaution, the vaccine is administered when the patient is sitting or lying down, and we observe everyone for 15 minutes following the injection to ensure that they feel OK.
Does the HPV vaccine interact with COVID vaccines?
We don’t think so, but as a precaution, I advise leaving at least a two-week gap between the COVID-19 vaccination and other vaccine doses.
The HPV vaccine can be given at the same time as a tetanus booster and is often done so, as these vaccines are often due to be given at around age 12 to 14.
Where can I get the HPV vaccination in Singapore?
You may get the HPV vaccine for yourself or your child at any Osler Health clinic in Singapore. We also recommend regular cervical screening with PAP smear tests for better prevention against cervical cancer.
Dr Neil Forrest is a British GP based at Osler Health Star Vista. He has been caring for the international community of Singapore for over 5 years. For appointments: 6339 2727