What is the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine protects people from a common sexually transmitted virus called HPV or human papilloma virus. There are about 40 types of HPV that can spread through sexual contact. It's so common that 80% of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives. Most infected individuals will never know they have it because it doesn't cause any symptoms. Some HPV infections can progress to cancer later in life.
HPV infections that do not go away can cause:
- Cervical cancer.
- Vaginal cancer.
- Vulvar cancer.
- Penile cancer.
- Anal cancer.
- Cancer of the back of the throat (oropharyngeal cancer).
- Genital warts.
The HPV vaccine protects against the spread of HPV infections and reduces the risk for developing cancers caused by HPV.
What does the HPV vaccine do?
The HPV vaccine protects against six strains of the HPV virus that have been shown to cause cervical cancer as well as vagina, vulvar, anus, penile and throat cancers. Each year, there are about 35,000 cases of HPV-related cancer diagnosed. The most common among women is cervical cancer. The most common among men is throat cancer.
Who should get the HPV vaccine?
The current recommendations for getting the HPV vaccine are:
- Children and adults ages 9 to 26 years: The HPV vaccination works best when given between the ages of 9 and 12 years old. Getting vaccinated at a young age provides the best protection against HPV cancers. HPV vaccination is recommended for all children and adults through 26 years old who have not been fully vaccinated.
- Adults ages 27 to 45 years: The HPV vaccination is not recommended in adults ages 27 through 45 years. The vaccine is less beneficial to people in this age range because more people have already been exposed to the virus. In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend getting the vaccine as an adult.
Who should not get the HPV vaccine?
People should not get the HPV vaccine if they:
- Are pregnant.
- Have had severe reactions to any ingredients in the vaccine or to a previous dose of the HPV vaccine.
Tell your healthcare provider about any severe allergies you have, including yeast or latex allergies. People with moderate to severe illnesses may be asked to wait to get the vaccine until they are well.
Can you get the HPV vaccine at any age?
The HPV vaccine is the most effective when given before age 13. The vaccine can be given to individuals through age 26, but it's better to get it before ever becoming sexually active. Research has showed that young teens have a better immune response to the vaccine than those in their later teens.
Are there different types of HPV vaccines?
HPV is a group of more than 200 viruses. About 40 of these are spread through sexual contact. Of these 40, about 12 types can cause certain cancers. There are three safe and effective HPV vaccines available worldwide:
- Gardasil® 9: This is the only vaccine currently being used in the United States. Gardasil 9 protects against nine types of cancer-causing HPV, including high-risk strains. It can prevent up to 90% of cervical cancers.
- Cervarix ® and Gardasil ®: These two HPV vaccines are used in other countries and treat certain high-risk strains of HPV. They can prevent around 70% of cervical cancer.
How many shots are there for the HPV vaccine?
The vaccine is given in a series. The number of shots you need varies depending on the age you are at your first dose.
- Anyone getting the vaccine prior to age 15 needs two doses of the HPV vaccine to be fully protected. They should be given six to twelve months apart.
- If you are 15 through 26 years old, you need three doses. You will need a second dose one to two months after your first dose. Then you will need a third dose six months after the first dose.
How does the HPV vaccine work?
The vaccine contains a simulation of the virus — not a live virus. It cannot cause cancer or HPV infection. The HPV vaccine stimulates the body to produce antibodies against HPV. When the person is exposed to the real virus, these antibodies can prevent it from creating an infection.
Risks / Benefits
What are the advantages of getting the HPV vaccine?
The biggest advantage is reducing your risk for cancers caused by HPV infection. HPV is so common that around 80% of people in the United States will encounter it at some point in their lives. There is no way to know which infection can lead to cancer. Vaccinating against HPV is the best protection available at this time.
What are the risks of getting the HPV vaccine?
There are not many risks associated with getting the HPV vaccine. Like most vaccines, there are mild side effects. There is a risk of severe reaction if you are allergic to latex, yeast or any of the ingredients in the vaccine. Speak with your healthcare provider about any allergies you have.
Are there any side effects of the HPV vaccine?
Like most vaccinations, there are mild side effects that last a short time. No long-term side effects have been found.
Some of the most common side effects of the HPV vaccine are:
- Headache or feeling tired.
- Muscle pain or joint pain.
- Pain, swelling or redness at the injection site.
- Severe allergic reactions (rare).
Is the HPV vaccine safe?
The vaccine is safe. Before being approved for use, the HPV vaccine was tested in thousands of people around the world. It is always being studied and monitored to ensure there are no serious side effects.
Recovery and Outlook
How effective is the HPV vaccine in preventing HPV?
When doses are given at the recommended ages and at the appropriate intervals, it has been shown to prevent 90% of cancer-causing HPV. Research has also shown that fewer teens and young adults are getting genital warts. The number of cervical precancers are decreasing since HPV vaccines have been in use.
How long does the HPV vaccine last?
Currently, there is no indication that the HPV vaccine decreases in effectiveness over time. Researchers will continue to study vaccinated individuals to ensure no booster shots are needed.
When to Call the Doctor
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
It's common to have questions prior to getting a vaccine. Some questions you may want to ask your healthcare provider about the HPV vaccine are:
- When should I get the HPV vaccine?
- Are there any side effects of the HPV vaccine?
- How does the HPV vaccine work?
- Where is the HPV vaccine given?
- How effective is the HPV vaccine?
- Is there any reason to not get the HPV vaccine?
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the HPV vaccine help if I’m already infected?
The HPV vaccine only protects you from strains of HPV that you haven’t been exposed to. The vaccine is not meant to treat existing HPV infections.
Should I get the HPV vaccine if I have already had HPV?
Yes, you should still get the HPV vaccine if you have already had HPV. The vaccine can still protect you from the other strains you have not yet had. If you fall within the recommended age range (ages 9 to 26), you should still get the vaccine even if you’ve had an HPV infection.
Do women who have gotten the HPV vaccine still need to have Pap tests?
Yes, women who have gotten the HPV vaccine should still get Pap tests. The vaccine does not protect against all strains of HPV that can lead to cancer. Routine screening for cervical cancer is still recommended as part of a woman’s reproductive health.
Why do men need to get the HPV vaccine?
HPV is spread through sexual contact. There are types of HPV that have been shown to cause cancer in men — specifically cancer of the throat and penis.
Is the HPV vaccine mandatory?
The HPV vaccine is included on the childhood immunization schedule. School enrollment requirements and mandatory vaccinations are decided on a state-by-state basis.
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