HPV is one of the most common STDs out there, so it’s a big relief to know that vaccines will protect you against some types of HPV that can cause problems.

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What’s the HPV vaccine?

There are 3 HPV vaccines — Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. All of these vaccines protect against HPV types 16 and 18 — the 2 types that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases. Gardasil also protects you from types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of cases of genital warts. Gardasil 9 protects against another 5 types of HPV (types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) that can also lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, vulva, or vagina.

HPV vaccines are given in a series of 3 shots. The second shot is given 2 months after the first, and the third shot is given 4 months after the second shot. So, in all, it takes about 6 months to get all 3 shots.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

All people ages 9 to 26 can get the HPV vaccine to protect against genital warts and/or different types of HPV that can cause cancer. It’s recommended that children get the vaccine at age 11 or 12, so they’re fully protected years before they become sexually active.

The vaccine isn’t usually given to people older than 26. But regardless of your age, talk with your nurse or doctor to find out if the HPV vaccine could benefit you.

Are there HPV vaccine side effects?

Research shows that the vaccine is safe. The most common side effect is temporary pain and redness where you get the shot.

One of the reasons the HPV vaccine is controversial is because it prevents a sexually transmitted infection, which leads some people to believe it’s inappropriate for children. But, the thing is, the vaccine works best if you get it long before you have sex. So it’s a good idea to get it when you’re young so you won’t have to worry about getting certain kinds of cancer later in life.

Studies show that the HPV vaccine doesn’t lead to people having more sex or sex at a younger age. So giving kids the HPV vaccine doesn’t encourage them to have sex. All it does is help protect them from genital warts and cancer in adulthood.

If I already have an HPV infection, can the vaccine treat it?

Nope. If you already have an HPV infection, getting an HPV vaccine can’t treat it. It can, however, protect you from getting other types of HPV.

If you have an HPV infection, talk with your doctor or nurse to find out what tests or treatment you need.

Do I still need to get Pap/HPV tests if I got the HPV vaccine?

Yup. Pap tests are still an important way to find and prevent cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer. So it's still important to get Pap/HPV tests to find any cell changes that might lead to cervical cancer.

Where can I get the HPV vaccines?

You can get the HPV vaccine at many Planned Parenthood health centers. You can also get it from other clinics, health departments, and private nurses and doctors.

How much does the HPV vaccine cost?

Each dose of the vaccine can cost up to about $170, so all three shots may cost about $500. Luckily, many health insurance companies cover the HPV vaccines. There are also programs that help some people without insurance get a vaccine for low or no cost.

You deserve to be healthy, regardless of whether you have health insurance. Talk with the staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center or another nurse or doctor to get more information about ways to make the vaccine more affordable.