National Immunization Awareness Week: All About HPV Vaccine

Why is HPV vaccine needed?

HPV vaccine prevents cancer. About 79 million Americans are infected with human papillomavirus, or HPV. Although most HPV infections will go away on their own, some HPV infections can lead to various types of cancer. HPV vaccine is safe, effective, and can protect people from infection with the types of HPV that can cause certain cancers.


How many types of HPV are there?

More than 40 HPV types can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not know they have it.


How common are HPV infections?

HPV infections are so common that nearly all men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. Most people never know that they have been infected and may give HPV to a sex partner without knowing it. About 79 million Americans are currently infected with some type of HPV. About 14 million people in the United States become newly infected each year.


What kinds of problems does HPV infection cause?

Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems. Most HPV infections (9 out of 10) go away by themselves within two years. But, sometimes, HPV infections will last longer, and can cause certain cancers and other diseases. HPV infections can cause:

  • Cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women.
  • Cancers of the penis in men.
  • Cancers of the anus and back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx), in both women and men. Every year in the United States, HPV causes 30,700 cancers in men and women.


HPV can also cause genital warts in men and women.


How many people get cancer from HPV?

Every year nearly 31,000 men and women are affected by cancers caused by HPV infections.


How many people get genital warts from HPV?

Before HPV vaccines were introduced, roughly 340,000 to 360,000 women and men were affected by genital warts caused by HPV every year.* Also, about one in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. have genital warts at any given time.


*As these figures only look at the number of people who sought care for genital warts, this could be an underestimate of the actual number of people who get genital warts.


How do people get HPV?

People get HPV from another person during sexual activity. Most of the time people get HPV from having vaginal and/or anal sex. Men and women can also get HPV from having oral and other sex play. A person can get HPV even if their partner (straight or same-sex) doesn’t have any signs or symptoms of HPV infection. A person can have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sexual contact with an infected person. Most people do not realize they are infected. They also don’t know that they may be passing HPV to their sex partner(s). It is also possible for someone to get more than one type of HPV.


It’s not very common, but sometimes a pregnant woman with HPV can pass it to her baby during delivery. In these cases, the child can develop recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), a rare condition where warts caused by HPV (similar to genital warts) grow in the throat.


Who should get the HPV vaccine?

All girls and boys who are 11 or 12 years old should get the recommended series of HPV vaccine. The vaccination series can be started at age 9 years. Teen boys and girls who did not get vaccinated when they were younger should get it now. HPV vaccine is recommended for young women through age 26, and young men through age 21. HPV vaccine is also recommended for the following people, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger:

  • Young men who have sex with men, including young men who identify as gay or bisexual or who intend to have sex with men through age 26.
  • Young adults who are transgender through age 26.
  • Young adults with certain immunocompromising conditions (including HIV) through age 26.


Why is the vaccine recommended at age 11 or 12?

For HPV vaccine to be most effective, the series should be given prior to exposure to HPV. There is no reason to wait to vaccinate until teens reach puberty or start having sex. Preteens should receive all recommended doses of the HPV vaccine series long before they begin any type of sexual activity.


Is the vaccine still effective if you have had sexual intercourse?

Even if someone has already had sex, they should still get HPV vaccine. Although HPV infection can occur soon after someone starts having sex, 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 some protection from the vaccine.


Why are two doses recommended for 9–14 year olds, while older adolescents need three doses?

Since 2006, HPV vaccines have been recommended in a three-dose series given over six months. In 2016, CDC changed the recommendation to two doses for persons starting the series before their 15th birthday. The second dose of HPV vaccine should be given six to 12 months after the first dose. Adolescents who receive their two doses less than five months apart will require a third dose of HPV vaccine.


Teens and young adults who start the series at ages 15 through 26 years still need three doses of HPV vaccine Also, three doses are still recommended for people with certain immunocompromising conditions ages 9 through 26 years.


CDC makes recommendations based on the best available scientific evidence. Studies have shown that two doses of HPV vaccine given at least six months apart to adolescents at age 9 through 14 years worked as well or better than three doses given to older adolescents and young adults. Studies have not been done to show this for adolescents starting the series at age 15 years or older.


How well does HPV vaccine work?

HPV vaccination works extremely well. Clinical trials showed the vaccines provided close to 100% protection against precancers and, for Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®, genital warts. Since vaccination was first recommended in 2006, there has been a 64% reduction in vaccine type HPV infections among teen girls in the U.S., even with low HPV vaccination rates. Studies have shown that fewer teens are getting genital warts.


In other countries, such as Australia, where HPV vaccination coverage is higher than in the United States, large decreases have been observed in these HPV-associated outcomes. HPV vaccines offer long-lasting protection against HPV infection and HPV disease. There has been no evidence to suggest that HPV vaccine loses any ability to provide protection over time. Data are available for about 10 years of follow-up after vaccination.


How long will the HPV vaccine provide protection?

HPV vaccine offers long-lasting protection against HPV infection and cancers and other diseases caused by HPV infections. Protection produced by HPV vaccine remains high for at least eight to 10 years according to data from clinical trials and ongoing research. Evidence suggests that the protection provided by the HPV vaccine will continue beyond 10 years.


Will the vaccine require a booster?

In the U.S., the HPV vaccine series requires two shots for teens under 15 years old – one shot followed by the second shot six to 12 months later. Booster doses are not recommended. Like all vaccines, HPV vaccine is monitored continually to make sure it remains safe and effective. If protection from HPV vaccine doesn’t last as long as it should, then CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices would review the data and determine if a booster shot should be recommended.


Does someone have to restart the HPV vaccine series if too much time passes between the shots?

CDC recommends that all 11 or 12 year olds should get two shots of HPV vaccine six to 12 months apart. Adolescents who receive their two shots less than five months apart will require a third dose of HPV vaccine.


If your teen hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet, talk to their doctor or nurse about getting it for them as soon as possible. If your child is older than 14 years, three shots will need to be given over six months. Also, three doses are still recommended for people with certain immunocompromising conditions ages 9 through 26 years. 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.


Does HPV vaccination offer similar protection from cervical cancer in all racial/ethnic groups?

Yes. Several different HPV types cause cervical cancer. HPV vaccines are designed to prevent the HPV types that cause most cervical cancers, so HPV vaccination will provide high protection for all racial/ethnic groups.

All three licensed HPV vaccines protect against types 16 and 18, which cause the majority of cervical cancers across racial/ethnic groups (67% of the cervical cancers among whites, 68% among blacks, and 64% among Hispanics). The 9-valent HPV vaccine protects against seven HPV types that cause about 80% of cervical cancer among all racial/ethnic groups in the United States.

Teens and young adults who haven’t completed the HPV vaccine series should make an appointment today to get vaccinated. To protect against cervical cancer, women age 21 through 65 years should get screened for cervical cancer at regular intervals and get follow-up care as recommended by their doctor or nurse.


How do we know that the HPV vaccine is safe?

The United States currently has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history. Years of testing are required by law to ensure the safety of vaccines before they are made available for use in the United States. This process can take 10 years or longer. Once a vaccine is in use, CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitor any associated side effects or possible side effects (adverse events) through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System and other vaccine safety systems.


HPV vaccines went through years of extensive safety testing before they were licensed by FDA. Gardasil 9, the only HPV vaccine currently marketed in the U.S., was studied in more than 15,000 females and males prior to being licensed. No serious safety concerns were identified in these clinical trials. FDA only licenses a vaccine if it is safe, effective, and the benefits outweigh the risks. CDC and FDA continue to monitor HPV vaccines to make sure they are safe and beneficial for the public.


What are some possible side effects of HPV vaccination?

Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Many people who get HPV vaccine have no side effects at all. Some people report having very mild side effects, like a sore arm from the shot. The most common side effects are usually mild. Common side effects of HPV vaccine include:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given.
  • Headache or feeling tired.
  • Muscle or joint pain.


Brief fainting spells and related symptoms (such as jerking movements) can happen after any medical procedure, including vaccination. Sitting or lying down for about 15 minutes after a vaccination can help prevent fainting and injuries caused by falls.


On very rare occasions, severe (anaphylactic) allergic reactions may occur after vaccination. People with severe allergies to any component of a vaccine should not receive that vaccine.


Will the vaccine cause cancer?

HPV vaccine cannot cause HPV infection or cancer. HPV vaccine is made from one protein from the virus that cannot cause HPV infection or cancer. Not receiving HPV vaccine at the recommended ages can leave one vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV.


Will the vaccine cause fertility issues?

No. There are no data that suggest getting HPV vaccine will have an effect on future fertility. In fact, getting vaccinated and protecting against cervical cancer can help women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.

Not getting the HPV vaccine leaves people vulnerable to HPV infection; for women, this could lead to cervical cancer. The treatment of cervical cancer (hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and/or radiation, for example) could leave a woman unable to have children. Even the treatment of cervical precancers caused by HPV can cause preterm labor or problems at the time of delivery.


Why is this vaccine not mandatory for school entry?

Each state determines which vaccines will be required for school entry. Many factors are taken into consideration before requiring any vaccine for school entry, including: community support for the requirement, financial resources needed to implement the requirement, burden on school personnel for enforcing the requirement, vaccine supply, and current vaccination coverage levels.

HPV vaccine was first recommended for girls only, and many states did not want to implement a requirement that only applied to half the student population.

Health care providers do not need to wait to recommend and/or administer the HPV vaccine until there is a school requirement. Almost every state has a Tdap requirement for middle school entry. Providers should use this opportunity to administer HPV and quadrivalent meningococal conjugate vaccines.


How can someone get help paying for HPV vaccine?

The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program helps families of eligible children who might not otherwise have access to vaccines. The program provides vaccines at no cost to children ages 18 years and younger who are uninsured, Medicaid-eligible, or American Indian/Alaska Native. The Public Health office can also offer this vaccine for a reduced cost to those whose insurances do not cover this vaccine (note: a high deductible does not meet the criteria of the VFC program). If your insurance does not offer coverage for this vaccine, you are considered underinsured and can be offered this vaccine for reduced cost. Please contact your insurance company to find out what your coverage for this vaccine might be.

–All information on this page is directly taken from the CDC.