HPV Vaccination

Along with screening and early detection, the HPV vaccine is another important tool to prevent cervical cancer.

HPV vaccination helps prevent infection from several high-risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer as well as low-risk types that cause genital warts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all boys and girls get HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. The vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. For this reason, up until age 14, only two doses are the vaccine are required. Women and men can get the vaccine up to age 45 but for those 15 and older, a full three-dose series is needed.

Vaccination Has Reduced HPV-Related Disease

Rates of infection with strains of HPV covered by the vaccines have dropped significantly since the vaccine was introduced. Researchers comparing HPV infections rates among females ages 14-19 in years before (2003-2006) and after (2007-2010) the first HPV vaccine became available found a 56% drop in infection rates for the HPV types covered by the vaccine. As more young people receive the vaccine, these rates can continue to drop.

An exciting new study in Scotland found no cases of invasive cervical cancer in young women who had gotten the HPV vaccine by the time they were 14. The study also found that women vaccinated between ages 14 and 22 had lower rates of cervical cancer than unvaccinated women.

Common Questions about HPV Vaccines

Will the vaccine help my HPV go away faster?

No, the vaccines do not treat HPV or related diseases.

Why should my son get the vaccine? I thought it was only for girls.

Males are at risk for HPV, too. HPV vaccination can protect boys against genital warts and anal cancer.

My children are not yet sexually active, do they need the vaccine?

The vaccine is most effective before the onset of sexual activity. The CDC recommends vaccinating girls / boys at 11-12 years old.

My children are older than 11 or 12. Is it too late to get the vaccine?

Vaccination is currently recommended for males and females through age 26. Recently the vaccine was also approved for males and females through age 45.

If I get the vaccine I won’t have to worry about HPV anymore, right?

HPV vaccines will not eliminate all HPV or cervical cancer. The vaccines prevent the HPV types that cause 90% of cervical cancer cases. But there are other types of HPV (not covered in the vaccine) that could cause disease.

If someone is sexually active can they still get the vaccine?

Those who are already sexually active may have been exposed to one of the types of HPV that the vaccines protect against. There is still benefit though in that is unlikely that they have been exposed to all types covered by the vaccines.

How safe is the vaccine?

The safety of HPV vaccines was studied in clinical trials before they were licensed. For Gardasil 9 (released in 2014), over 15,000 individuals participated in these trials. The first version of Gardasil (released in 2006) was studied in over 29,000 participants.

Since the vaccine was approved, there have been over 100 million doses given in the United States. Both the CDC and the FDA continue to monitor the safety of the vaccine and investigate any reports of adverse reactions.

What are the most common side effects?

  • Redness and soreness and some pain where the shot is given.
  • Mild fever.
  • Headache

These symptoms do not last long and go away on their own. The most common serious side effects are dizziness and fainting. 

How can I pay for the vaccine?

Most insurance companies will cover the cost of vaccination. If your does not, or if you are uninsured, there are programs that can help. The Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program is a federal program that offers vaccines at no cost for eligible children, ages 18 and under, through VFC-enrolled doctors. Other alternatives include finding a local Planned Parenthood clinic or local health department to ask about options for reduced cost or sliding scale programs.

IMPORTANT! Anyone with a cervix still needs regular cervical cancer screening, even if they have received the HPV vaccine. The vaccine doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer. Early detection saves lives!