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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can cause cancer in both females and males. There is a vaccine available that can prevent these infections. HPV vaccine is recommended for preteens and is most effective when given between the ages of 9 and 12.

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can cause cancers later in life. There are more than 100 types of HPV viruses. Some cause infection of the skin and others infect mucous membranes of various areas of the body. Different types of HPV infection affect the body in different ways. For instance, some types of HPV can lead to cancer of the tongue, tonsils, anus, cervix, vulva, and penis, and others cause warts in the genital area.

What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine can prevent almost all HPV infections and protects against over 90% of cancers caused by HPV. HPV vaccine works best when given before risk of exposure and is most effective in pre-teens. Only two doses are required if the vaccine series is started before the 15th birthday.

The HPV vaccine can help protect against 6 types of cancer: cancers of the cervix, throat, vagina, vulva, penis, and anus.

It can also help prevent genital warts.

Who can get the HPV Vaccine?

  • Individuals ages 9-26 are eligible for the HPV vaccine.
    • HPV vaccine produces the strongest immune response in preteens and works best when given between ages 9 and 12.
  • What about people older than 26?
    • HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years. Some adults age 27 through 45 years who were not already vaccinated might choose to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their health care provider about their risk for new HPV infections and possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination of adults provides less benefit, because more people in this age range have been exposed to HPV already.

How many doses are there?

  • People ages 9 through 14: two doses of the HPV shot are needed, 6-12 months apart.
  • People ages 15 through 26: three doses of the HPV shot should be given over 6 months.

Who should not get the HPV vaccine?

People should not get the HPV vaccine if they:
  • Have ever had life-threatening allergic reaction to any component of HPV vaccine, or to a previous dose of HPV vaccine
  • Are currently pregnant. However, receiving HPV vaccine when pregnant is not cause for alarm. People who started a vaccine series before they learned they were pregnant should complete the series after the pregnancy. People who are breastfeeding may get the vaccine.
People should talk to health care provider before getting HPV vaccine if they:
  • Have severe allergies, including an allergy to yeast

Are there any side effects?

The most common side effects are mild and include:
  • Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
  • Dizziness or fainting. Fainting after any vaccination, including HPV vaccine, is more common among adolescents. To prevent injury from fainting, adolescents should be seated or lying down during vaccination and for 15 minutes after getting the shot.
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes, the HPV vaccine went through extensive safety testing before being licensed by the FDA in 2006. More than 135 million doses have been given in the US. Scientists and health organizations at CDC, FDA and around the world closely monitor HPV vaccine safety.

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