The HPV vaccine protects against a very common sexually transmitted virus called HPV, or human papilloma virus.
HPV infects at least 50% of sexually active people at some point in their lives.
The body often clears the virus itself, but if the virus persists, it can cause cervical, anal, and throat cancer, as well as genital warts.
There are three HPV vaccines approved in the United States: Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. The only one currently in use in the United States is Gardasil 9.
Others are available in other countries.
Like all vaccines, the HPV vaccine is not reliable.
They do not protect against 100+ types of HPV.
But they are almost 100% effective in preventing disease caused by high-risk types of HPV, which together account for 90% of all cervical cancers, as well as many cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and throat.
Gardasil 9 is effective against 9 types of HPV: 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. HPV-6 and HPV-11 cause about 90% of genital warts.
Vaccines contain virus-like particles but not the virus itself.
Insurance usually covers Gardasil’s costs.
The federal immunization program for children includes vaccinations for those under the age of 19 who meet the requirements.
You don’t need to be tested for cervical cancer or HPV before getting the vaccine.
Ideally, you should get it before you have a chance of catching the virus. But even if you’ve been infected with one strain, it can still protect you from the others.
HPV vaccination side effects
No serious side effects from the HPV vaccine have been reported, but some teens and young adults experience seizures after the injection.
Mild side effects can include:
• Pain, redness, or swelling where the needle penetrated your skin
• Nausea and vomiting
• Weakness and fatigue
• Muscle or joint pain
Like any vaccine, the HPV vaccine carries the risk of a serious allergic reaction.
This is rare, but if you experience swelling of your face and throat, difficulty breathing, or hives after vaccination, seek help immediately.
Who should get the HPV vaccine?
The vaccine works best when given at an early age, before sexual activity, and before exposure to HPV.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommend it for:
• Girls and boys aged 11 to 12 years. You should take two doses 6 to 12 months apart. This series can start from the age of 9 years.
• Older adolescents and young adults up to age 26 who have not been vaccinated. From the age of 15 three doses are required.
• Older men and women aged 27 to 45 who have not been vaccinated and who are at particular risk as determined by their doctor.
Your body’s immune response is not as strong as if you were vaccinated as a teenager or adult.
And once you are sexually active, you may already be exposed.
But the vaccine can still protect you from strains of HPV that you haven’t been exposed to.
Who should not be vaccinated against HPV?
If you are pregnant, it is recommended that you wait to get vaccinated against HPV.
However, there is no evidence that it harms the unborn child.
You also should not be vaccinated if you have had a reaction to previous HPV or other vaccines, or if you are allergic to yeast.
You should delay the injection if you have moderate or severe pain.
The HPV vaccine is not a cure
The vaccine is not a cure for HPV. But they have been shown to provide long-term protection.
The HPV vaccine doesn’t mean women can skip their Pap test.
It does not protect against all types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.
Between the ages of 21 and 65, women should have a Pap test every 3 years.
Starting at age 30, there is also the option of having a Pap and HPV test or self-test for HPV every 5 years.
HPV vaccine safety
Dozens of studies involving thousands of people around the world have shown that the HPV vaccine is safe.
Current government programs track vaccination problems and have so far identified very few serious problems with the HPV vaccine.