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You want to pass on certain things like family traditions, a grandmother’s quilt or glazed ham for Christmas dinner – but no one wants to pass on a serious illness. Take charge of your health and help protect those around you by getting the necessary vaccines at your next doctor’s visit.

Vaccinating children is commonplace in the U.S., but many adults don’t know which ones they need, and even fewer are fully vaccinated. Vaccines aren’t just for kids! One vaccine adults ought to get, if they haven’t already, is the HPV vaccine. To commemorate National Immunization Awareness Month, we are answering some of the most frequently asked questions about the HPV vaccine.

How many shots of the HPV vaccine do you need?

If you under the age of 15, you need two shots six months apart. If you are 15 and older, you’ll need three shots over a six-month period.

If you miss your second or third shot, get your next shot as soon as possible. In most cases, your most recent shot will still be active and you can finish getting all of the shots you need. If you’re not sure how many shots you still need or if you have to start the vaccine over, talk to your doctor before getting your next shot.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

Anyone and everyone between the ages of 9 and 26 should get the vaccine if they haven’t already. It’s best to get all your shots before you start having sex and before you’re exposed to HPV, or the human papillomavirus. If you’re already sexually active, but you haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, then it’s best to get the HPV vaccine as soon as possible.

Can I still get the vaccine if I’m over 26?

If you’re over 26 and you haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, talk to your health care provider about the vaccine at your next appointment. Many insurance companies will not cover the costs of the shots if you’re over 26, and some clinicians may not administer the vaccine at that age because it’s considered “off-label.” It’s possible to get the vaccine if you’re over 26, but you may have to pay out-of-pocket and talk to several health care providers about it.

Can I still get the vaccine if I currently have HPV?

If you currently have HPV or genital warts, or have had HPV in the past, then you can still get the vaccine. If you have HPV or genital warts when you get the vaccine, know that it will not treat either condition. Please talk to your health care provider about the tests or treatment you may need for genital warts or HPV.

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Can I still get HPV even if I’ve already gotten the vaccine?

Unfortunately, yes, There are more than 100 types of HPV and the vaccine only protects against up to nine HPV strains. All vaccines protect against HPV types 16 and 18 — the two types that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. One brand, Gardasil, also protects against types 6 and 11, which cause 90 percent of genital warts cases. Another brand, Gardasil 9, protects against another five types (31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) that can lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, vulva, or vagina.

Where can I get the HPV vaccine?

If you’re not sure where to go to get the HPV vaccine, then come to Planned Parenthood. All eight of our health centers offer the vaccine to anyone between the ages of 19 and 26. Patients do not have to get all three shots at Planned Parenthood. To start, or finish, the vaccine, give us a call at 314-531-7526 or 417-883-3800 to make an appointment today.

Carla Lantz is a nurse midwife at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

Tags: cancer, HPV, HPV vaccine, vaccinations, national immunization awareness month

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