The HPV Vaccine

Written by Amy Boulanger | Published on November 17, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP on November 17, 2014

Human Papillomavirus Vaccination

HPV vaccination protects against some of the most common types of human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 40 types of HPV.

Most HPV infections eventually go away without treatment. However, infection can cause a number of health conditions including:

  • cervical cancer
  • penile cancer
  • anal cancer
  • throat cancer
  • genital warts

HPV is spread through intimate, skin-to-skin contact. Many people with HPV have no symptoms. Therefore, they are unaware they are infected. They can easily pass the virus on to their sexual partners. Practicing safer sex reduces, but does not eliminate, this risk.

It’s important to know that vaccination does NOT prevent all cases of cervical cancer. Women who are vaccinated still need to receive regular Pap smears.

Getting Vaccinated

There are currently two HPV vaccines licensed in the United States. Both are given in three doses.

Gardasil is licensed for use in both women and men aged 9 to 26. It protects against four types of HPV. This includes the two most common cancer-causing types. It also includes the two types that cause most cases of genital warts. 

Cervarix is licensed only for use in women. It protects against the two types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer. It does not protect against wart-causing types.  

Vaccination is usually recommended at age 11 or 12. Ideally, teens should be vaccinated before they become sexually active.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

Certain types of people should not get vaccinated for HPV. This includes:

  • those who had a severe reaction to an earlier HPV vaccine dose
  • pregnant women
  • anyone who is currently moderately to severely ill  

If you have been sexually active for many years, HPV vaccination may not be helpful. There is a good chance you have already been exposed to the virus. However, vaccination will not cause harm in this circumstance.

Potential Side Effects

The risk of severe reactions to the HPV vaccine is extremely low. However, many people have milder side effects, including:

  • redness or swelling
  • pain
  • fever
  • headache
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • muscle or joint pain
  • fainting

In general, teenagers are more likely to faint after vaccination. Therefore, they should remain sitting or lying down for at least 15 minutes after getting a shot. This reduces the risk of a fall or injury. 

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