Three vaccines are available to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV) types that cause most cervical cancers as well as some cancers of the anus, vulva (area around the opening of the vagina), vagina, and oropharynx (back of throat including base of tongue and tonsils). Two of these vaccines also prevent HPV types that cause most genital warts. HPV vaccines are given in 3 shots over 6 months.
Why is the HPV vaccine important?
Genital HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another through direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. Most sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will never even know it. HPV infection is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s. There are about 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas of men and women. Most HPV types cause no symptoms and go away on their own. But some types can cause cervical cancer in women and other less common cancers - like cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, and vulva and oropharynx. Other types of HPV can cause warts in the genital areas of men and women, called genital warts. Genital warts are not life-threatening. But they can cause emotional stress and their treatment can be very uncomfortable.
Which girls/women should receive HPV vaccination?
HPV vaccination is recommended for 11 and 12 year-old girls. It is also recommended for girls and women age 13 through 26 years of age who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series; HPV vaccine can also be given to girls beginning at age 9 years.
Will sexually active females benefit from the vaccine?
Ideally females should get the vaccine before they become sexually active and exposed to HPV. Females who are sexually active may also benefit from vaccination, but they may get less benefit. This is because they may have already been exposed to one or more of the HPV types targeted by the vaccines. However, few sexually active young women are infected with all HPV types prevented by the vaccines, so most young women could still get protection by getting vaccinated.
Can pregnant women get the vaccine?
The vaccines are not recommended for pregnant women. Studies show that HPV vaccines do not cause problems for babies born to women who were vaccinated while pregnant, but more research is still needed. A pregnant woman should not get any doses of either HPV vaccine until her pregnancy is completed.
Getting the HPV vaccine when pregnant is not a reason to consider terminating a pregnancy. If a woman realizes that she got one or more shots of an HPV vaccine while pregnant, she should wait until after her pregnancy to finish the remaining HPV vaccine doses.
Should girls and women be screened for cervical cancer before getting vaccinated?
Girls and women do not need to get an HPV test or Pap test to find out if they should get the vaccine. However it is important that women continue to be screened for cervical cancer, even after getting all 3 shots of either HPV vaccine. This is because neither vaccine protects against ALL types of cervical cancer.
How effective are the HPV Vaccines?
All HPV vaccines target the HPV types that most commonly cause cervical cancer and can cause some cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, and oropharynx. Two of the vaccines also protect against the HPV types that cause most genital warts. HPV vaccines are highly effective in preventing the targeted HPV types, as well as the most common health problems caused by them.
The vaccines are less effective in preventing HPV-related disease in young women who have already been exposed to one or more HPV types. That is because the vaccines prevent HPV before a person is exposed to it. HPV vaccines do not treat existing HPV infections or HPV-associated diseases.
How long does vaccine protection last?
Research suggests that vaccine protection is long-lasting. Current studies have followed vaccinated individuals for ten years, and show that there is no evidence of weakened protection over time.
What does the vaccine not protect against?
The vaccines do not protect against all HPV types— so they will not prevent all cases of cervical cancer. Since some cervical cancers will not be prevented by the vaccines, it will be important for women to continue getting screened for cervical cancer. Also, the vaccines do not prevent other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). So it will still be important for sexually active persons to lower their risk for other STIs.
Will girls and women be protected against HPV and related diseases, even if they don’t get all 3 doses?
It is not yet known how much protection girls and women get from receiving only one or two doses of an HPV vaccine. So it is important that girls and women get all 3 doses.
Why is HPV vaccination only recommended for women through age 26?
HPV vaccination is not currently recommended for women over age 26 years. Clinical trials showed that, overall, HPV vaccination offered women limited or no protection against HPV-related diseases. For women over age 26 years, the best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get routine cervical cancer screening, as recommended.
What about vaccinating boys and men?
Gardasil and Gardasil 9 are licensed for use in boys and men. Both vaccines were found to be safe and effective for males 9 -26 years. ACIP recommends routine vaccination of boys aged 11 or 12 years with 3-doses of Gardasil or Gardasil 9. The vaccination series can be started beginning at age 9 years. Vaccination is recommended for males aged 13 through 21 years who have not already been vaccinated or who have not received all 3 doses. The vaccine is most effective when given at younger ages; males aged 22 through 26 years may be vaccinated.