HPV stands for human papillomavirus. Some types of HPV are sexually transmitted. They can infect the throat and the genital area — the vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, or scrotum. Some types may cause genital warts. Other types may cause cell changes that can lead to cervical and other cancers. Most types seem to have no harmful effect at all.
The HPV vaccine protects us against the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. Here are the answers to some questions people commonly ask about HPV vaccines. If you are trying to decide if you or a young person in your life should get a vaccine, we hope these answers help you decide.
How Does the HPV Vaccine Work?
There are three HPV vaccines, Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. They all protect against HPV types 16 and 18, which cause 7 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer. Gardasil and Gardasil 9 also protect against types 6 and 11, which cause 9 out of 10 cases of genital warts. Gardasil 9 protects against an additional 5 strains of HPV which can cause cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancer.
The vaccines make your body's immune system produce antibodies to these HPV types. The antibodies protect you from getting infected with HPV.
The HPV vaccines are given in a series of three shots. You will get the second shot two months after the first shot. You will get the third shot four months after the second shot. So, in all, it takes six months to get all three shots.
Should I Get an HPV Vaccine? Should My Child Get One?
It is recommended that all girls and women ages 9 to 26 get an HPV vaccine. Boys and men ages 9 to 26 can get the vaccine to prevent genital warts, some cancers of the anus and mouth/throat, and to prevent the spread of HPV to women which could potentially cause cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Physicians recommend that boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12, long before they become sexually active to maximize protection. But even those who have had sex can benefit from the vaccine.
Some studies have found that the HPV vaccine may be effective for those older than 26, although more studies need to be done to verify that. So, the vaccine is not routinely given to people older than 26.
But no matter who you are or how old you are, talk with a health care provider to find out if the HPV vaccine could benefit you or your child.
How Safe Is the HPV Vaccine? Are There Any Side Effects?
Studies show that the HPV vaccine is safe. The most common side effects are bruising, itching, redness, swelling, or tenderness around the area where the shot is given. Women may also experience dizziness, fainting, mild fever, nausea, and vomiting. But these symptoms do not last long and usually pass on their own.
As with any vaccine, there is a very small risk of an allergic reaction. If you have a fast heart beat, high fever, hives, rash, or weakness, call your health care provider right away. If you have difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately.
Can I Get HPV from the HPV Vaccine?
No. There is no live virus in either HPV vaccine, so they can't give you an infection.
If I Already Have an HPV Infection, Can an HPV Vaccine Treat It?
No, neither vaccine is a treatment for HPV. They can only prevent a new HPV infection. But if you have HPV, the vaccines may help protect you from getting another type of HPV.
There are treatments available for genital warts and for cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. Talk with your health care provider about what tests and treatments you may need.
Do I Still Need Pap or HPV Tests if I Already Got the HPV Vaccine?
Yes. You should continue getting Pap/HPV tests. The HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer. So it's still important for you to get Pap/HPV tests to detect any cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer.
Where Can I Get an HPV Vaccine?
Many Planned Parenthood health centers offer the HPV vaccine. You can also get it from other family planning health centers and private health care providers.
How Much Does the HPV Vaccine Cost?
Each dose can cost up to about $170, so all three shots may cost about $500. Many health insurance companies may pay for the HPV vaccines. There are also programs that allow some people without insurance to get a vaccine for low or no cost. Talk with your health care provider to get more information about these programs.