HPV vaccines are given as a series of three shots over 6 months to protect against HPV infection and the health problems that HPV infection can cause. Two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) protect against cervical cancers in women. One vaccine (Gardasil) also protects against genital warts and cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva. Both vaccines are available for females. Only Gardasil is available for males.
HPV vaccines offer the best protection to girls and boys who receive all three vaccine doses and have time to develop an immune response before being sexually active with another person. That's why HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years.
Who else should get the HPV vaccine?
In addition to girls and boys aged 11 or 12 years, HPV vaccines are also recommended for teen boys and girls who did not get the vaccine when they were younger, teen girls and young women through age 26, as well as teen boys and young men through age 21.
The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (or any man who has sex with a man). It is also recommended for men and women with compromised immune systems (including people living with HIV/AIDS) through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Who should get HPV vaccine?
A: All kids who are 11 or 12 years old should get the three dose series of HPV vaccine. Teen boys and girls who did not get the vaccine when they were younger should get it now. Young women can get HPV vaccine through age 26, and young men can get vaccinated through age 21. The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual young men (or any young man who has sex with men) and also for young men with compromised immune systems (including HIV) through age 26, if they did not get HPV vaccine when they were younger.
Q: Why is the vaccine recommended at such a young age?
A: For HPV vaccines to be effective, they should be given prior to exposure to HPV. There is no reason to wait until a teen is having sex to offer HPV vaccination to them. Preteens should receive all three doses of the HPV vaccine series long before they begin any type of sexual activity and are exposed to HPV. Also HPV vaccine produces a higher immune response in preteens than it does in older teens and young women.
Q: Is the vaccine still effective if you have had sexual intercourse?
A: Even if someone has already had sex, they should still get HPV vaccine. While HPV infection usually happens soon after someone has sex for the first time, a person might not be exposed to any or all of the HPV types that are in the vaccine; males and females in the age groups recommended for vaccination are likely to get at least some protection from the vaccine.
Q: Should boys get HPV vaccine too?
A: One HPV vaccine—the quadrivalent vaccine called Gardasil—is also for boys. This vaccine helps prevent boys from getting infected with the types of HPV than can cause cancers of the throat, penis and anus. The vaccine also prevents genital warts. When boys are vaccinated, they are less likely to spread HPV to their current and future partners.
Q: How well does HPV vaccine work?
A: The HPV vaccine works extremely well. Clinical trials showed the vaccines provided close to 100% protection against precancers and for HPV4, genital warts. Since the vaccine was first recommended in 2006, there has been a 56% reduction in HPV infections among teen girls in the US, even with very low HPV vaccination rates. Research has also shown that fewer teens are getting genital warts. In other countries such as Australia where there is higher HPV vaccination coverage, HPV vaccine has also reduced the number of cases of precancers of the cervix in young women in that country. Also, genital warts decreased dramatically in young women and men in Australia since the HPV vaccine was introduced.
Q: How long will the HPV vaccine last?
A: Protection provided by HPV vaccine should be long-lasting. Data from clinical trials and ongoing research show that HPV vaccine lasts in the body for at least 10 years without becoming less effective. There is no evidence to suggest that HPV vaccine loses the ability to provide protection over time.
Q: Will the vaccine require a booster?
A: Currently in the US, there are three shots in the HPV vaccine series that are given over six months; there are no booster doses recommended. Like all vaccines, HPV vaccine is continually monitored to make sure that it remains safe and effective. If protection from HPV vaccine doesn’t last as long as it should, then the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practice would review the data and determine if a booster should be recommended.
Q: Does someone have to restart the HPV vaccine series if too much time passes between the shots?
A: It is recommended that all three shots of the HPV vaccine series be given over six months; the second shot should be given one to two months after the first, and the third dose should be given six months after the first dose. However, if someone waits longer than that between shots, they do not need to restart the series. Even if has been months or years since the last shot, the series should still be completed.
Q: How do we know that HPV vaccine is safe?
A: All vaccines used in the United States are required to go through years of extensive safety testing before they are licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Once in use, they are continually monitored for their safety and effectiveness. Both HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, are currently being monitored for any adverse events. CDC uses three systems to monitor and evaluate the safety of vaccines after they are licensed.
Studies have been conducted to determine the safety of HPV vaccines. However, there were no serious safety concerns confirmed in any of these studies. The findings of HPV vaccine safety studies are similar to the safety reviews of the other adolescent vaccines, Tdap and meningococcal vaccines. In the years of HPV vaccine safety studies and monitoring that have been conducted since the vaccine was licensed in 2006, no serious safety concerns have been causally associated with HPV vaccination.
Q: What are the side effects of HPV vaccine and how often do these side effects occur?
A: Several mild to moderate problems are known to occur with this HPV vaccine. These do not last long and go away on their own. These include:
- Reactions in the arm where the shot was given:
- Pain (about 8 people in 10)
- Redness or swelling (about 1 person in 4)
- Mild (100° F) (about 1 person in 10)
- Moderate (102° F) (about 1 person in 65)
- Other problems:
- Headache (about 1 person in 3)
Brief fainting spells and related symptoms (such as jerking movements) can happen after any medical procedure, including vaccination. Recent data suggest that fainting after any vaccination is more common in adolescents. Sitting or lying down for about 15 minutes after a vaccination can help prevent fainting and injuries caused by falls. Tell your doctor if the patient feels dizzy or light-headed, or has vision changes or ringing in the ears. Life-threatening allergic reactions from vaccines are very rare. If they do occur, it would be within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination.
Q: Will the vaccine cause cancer?
A: The HPV vaccine is made from one protein from the virus that cannot cause HPV infection or cancer.
Q: Will the vaccine cause fertility issues?
A: There are no data to suggest that getting HPV vaccine will have an effect on future fertility. In fact, getting vaccinated and protecting against cervical cancer can protect a woman’s ability to get pregnant and have healthy babies. It is possible that the treatment of cervical cancer could leave a woman unable to have children. It is also possible that treatment for cervical pre-cancer could put a woman at risk for problems with her cervix, which could cause preterm delivery or other problems.
Reference: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention