PrEP prevents HIV – and so do TasP and condoms.
But they don’t all prevent other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
If you or someone you know is sexually active find out more about vaccinations for sexual health!
Why get vaccinated?
Vaccination (also known as immunisation) is one of the most effective ways we have of preventing disease. Thanks to vaccines, many diseases like measles and polio are now rare in many countries. A vaccination will protect you for several years against an infection, including some infections that can be easily passed on when condoms are used.
What vaccines are available for sexually transmitted infections?
For some of the most common STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhoea, vaccines aren’t available. But there is a vaccine that can prevent infection with human papilloma virus (HPV). Sometimes infection with HPV causes no harm, other times it leads to genital or anal warts, and in some other cases it causes cervical cancer, anal cancer or other cancers. Other vaccines can protect against hepatitis A and hepatitis B, two viruses that can cause liver disease.
What does getting vaccinated involve?
These vaccines may be available at a sexual health clinic or a GP. You’ll have a course of two or three injections in your arm, taken over a period of a few months. The number of injections and timing will depend on what you’re being vaccinated against, your clinic and what is convenient for you. To ensure that the vaccine works, it is important to come back for the follow-up injections.
Who can get the hepatitis vaccines?
The NHS recommends the hepatitis B vaccine for anyone with multiple sexual partners, particularly men who have sex with men and sex workers. The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for men who have sex who have multiple sexual partners. People living with HIV, people who inject drugs, people travelling to countries where the viruses are often found, and people whose work could bring them into contact with an infection are also recommended to get vaccinated. There’s more information here and here.
Will the hepatitis vaccines protect me from hepatitis C?
Hepatitis A, B and C are not the same thing. These three viruses can all damage the liver, which is why they have similar names, but each virus is different. The vaccine for hepatitis A doesn’t work against hepatitis B, and the vaccine for hepatitis B doesn’t work against hepatitis A. Unfortunately there is no vaccine that will protect against hepatitis C.
Who can get the HPV vaccine?
In England, the NHS offers the HPV vaccine to girls aged 12 to 13 in secondary schools. This will protect them as they get older and start to have sex. Teenage girls who missed the vaccination at school can get it up to the age of 18. Click here to find out more about the NHS vaccination programme.
Boys aren’t given the vaccine, but heterosexual boys and men will be indirectly protected through girls’ vaccination. Because future generations of women will have much lower rates of HPV, heterosexual men will be less likely to catch it from their sexual partners.
What about gay men?
PrEPster and many other campaigning groups don’t think the current policy is good enough. Vaccinating adolescent girls does nothing to protect boys who have same-sex relationships when they are older. It’s best to get vaccinated at a young age, before beginning to have sex. Offering the vaccine to all young people would ensure that they are all protected from HPV, whatever their sexuality turns out to be. Find out more here.
Can adult gay men get the HPV vaccine?
In England, the NHS currently has a pilot project to offer the HPV vaccine to men who have sex with men who are attending sexual health and GUM clinics. It’s only available to men up to the age of 45. If you are a patient or become a patient at one of the participating clinics, you should be able to get the HPV vaccine free of charge. The pilot project will evaluate whether this is a feasible and cost-effective way to provide the vaccine. There’s more information here, plus the list of participating clinics.
Can adults get the HPV vaccine any other way?
A lot of private health clinics can provide a course of HPV vaccinations, costing between £400 and £600 in total. If you are paying privately, it’s worth checking which vaccine product the clinic will provide, as products that protect against more strains of HPV provide more protection. Cervarix protects against two strains, Gardasil (which the NHS uses) protects against four, and Gardasil 9 protects against nine.
Why can’t older adults get the HPV vaccine?
The HPV virus is very common and is easily spread by sexual activity – most adults have already been exposed to some strains of HPV. If you already have multiple strains of HPV, vaccination will protect you from strains you don’t yet have, but can’t do anything about the strains you already have. That’s why it’s best to have the vaccine at as young an age as possible, before being exposed to HPV.
What about meningitis?
Invasive meningococcal disease is a rare but serious bacterial infection. In recent years, there have been small outbreaks among gay men in some American cities, as well as in Berlin and Paris. If you are a gay man who often meets sexual partners when travelling, there could be benefits to getting vaccinated. The NHS doesn’t usually provide the vaccine to gay men, but it is available to people under the age of 25 who weren’t vaccinated as a child and also at travel clinics for people visiting some African and Middle Eastern countries.
Can people living with HIV take these vaccines?
The vaccines for HPV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and meningitis are safe for people living with HIV.