HPV vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective

3 April 2024
What was claimed

Many children have suffered terrible health problems after HPV vaccination and others have died.

Our verdict

No serious side effects were caused by more than 10 million doses of the HPV vaccine in the UK. Severe allergic reactions are possible, but very rare, with most vaccines.

A widely shared post on X (formerly Twitter) from a doctor called Tess Lawrie claims that “many children have suffered terrible health problems after HPV vaccination and others have died”. The post goes on to say: “Their lives may depend on the actions you take to inform yourself of the risks today.”

This is potentially seriously misleading. The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine has been proven safe and effective. To imply otherwise is wrong.

Although some children may have had serious health problems or sadly died after an HPV vaccination—as has been reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency a number of times—it doesn't mean the vaccine was the cause.

To quote the University of Oxford’s Vaccine Knowledge Project: “Between 2009 and 2018 more than 10 million doses of HPV vaccine were given in the UK, which means over 80% of women aged 15-24 have received the vaccination. There have been no examples of the vaccine causing serious side effects during this period.”

The UK government’s Green Book says “Since 2008, a range of suspected serious adverse reactions have been reported in temporal association with HPV vaccines at global level. These relate to a wide range of illnesses, mostly chronic syndromes.” But it adds that “numerous published epidemiological studies from independent academics have found no evidence of serious harm [from the HPV vaccine] based [on] a wide range of safety endpoints”.

There are several different strains of HPV, which has been shown to raise the risk of certain cancers in later life. Data so far shows a large reduction in the rate of these cancers among people who received the HPV vaccine.

Links to the post, as well as quotes and screenshots of it, have also been shared on Facebook. Bad information can spread quickly and widely on social media, and can be harmful if people use it to make decisions about their health.

Honesty in public debate matters

You can help us take action – and get our regular free email

What the post says

In the post, published on 10 March 2024, Dr Lawrie shared a screenshot of a letter from Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust to parents of schoolchildren in the area. The letter advises them to complete a consent form for HPV vaccination before a school visit from the vaccination team.

One section of the letter, which is highlighted in red, says: “In the absence of a consent form from parents, we will invite the young person to self-consent for the above vaccinations providing they can demonstrate understanding of the vaccinations due. Ultimately, the decision to consent is the young person’s choice, providing they understand the issues involved in self-consent. This is in line with the Gillick Guideline Competence.”

The trust has since confirmed with Full Fact that the letter is genuine.

Dr Lawrie claimed in her post that “many children” experienced serious health problems after HPV vaccination, and shared links to two organisations that campaign on the subject.

However, this does not mean that the HPV vaccine is dangerous. In fact, although very rare cases of severe allergic reaction are possible shortly after most vaccinations, the HPV vaccine has been studied extensively and found to be safe.

Japan resumed its HPV vaccination programme in 2022 following a suspension in 2013. A government announcement said (when translated by Google): “It was confirmed that no side effects were observed, and the effectiveness of the vaccination clearly outweighed the risk of side effects.” 

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) advises immunisation teams to try to contact the parents or guardians of children who are keen to be immunised against HPV, but who have not submitted a consent form.

If the parent or guardian cannot be reached, then some children can self-consent if they are 16 or older, or if they are deemed to have what’s known as “Gillick competence”. This means that they are “believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what's involved in their treatment”.

Children can also refuse to receive treatment on the same basis, although this can be overruled by the Court of Protection if the refusal may lead to their death or serious permanent injury. This is something we’ve written about before.

Full Fact approached Dr Lawrie for comment.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.