HPV vaccine is provided free for women and girls aged 12-26 years through The National HPV Vaccination Program. Should older girls and women (over 26 years) also be vaccinated?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer and abnormal Pap smears. The virus is transferred by sexual contact and is very contagious – condoms give only partial protection. In most cases, the body clears the virus within 2 years. However, cervical cancer can occur if it persists.
There are over 100 types of this common virus but types 16 and 18 cause about 70% of cervical cancer. HPV vaccination gives excellent protection against these 2 strains.
The risk in older women
Older women generally have lower rates of infection with HPV, although new infections can still occur e.g. if you or your partner have a sexual encounter with another partner.
Some older women have already been infected by HPV types 16 or 18. However, despite previous infection, women may still be at risk of future infection with the same or different types of HPV.
The vaccine does not prevent all cervical cancers. It is still very important to keep up to date with regular Pap smears every 2 years until the age of 70.
A course of 3 injections
The vaccine is given as a course of 3 injections over 6 months. It provides high levels of immunity in this age group, much higher than from natural infection with the virus.
The vaccine is safe and well tolerated. Side effects are usually mild and may include pain, redness and swelling at the injection site and fever. Older women have less reactions than the younger age group.