Human papillomavirus is a common infection--more than half of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at some time in their lives. But HPV vaccines can help prevent infection from both high risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts.
HPV vaccines are recommended for girls ages 11-12. Catch up vaccination is recommended for girls and young women ages 13-26 who have not been previously vaccinated. Males are also at risk for a number of HPV diseases, so boys and young men ages 9-26 can also be vaccinated against HPV.
While vaccination rates among girls and young women are still low (as of 2010, only 49% of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and only 32% completed all three doses), rates of infection with strains of HPV covered by the vaccines have dropped significantly. Researchers comparing HPV infections rates among females ages 14-19 in years before (2003-2006) and after (2007-2010) the first HPV vaccine became available found a 56% drop in infection rates for the HPV types covered by the vaccine.
The video below gives a quick introduction to the basic facts about HPV vaccines. You can learn more from the FAQs below.
There are currently two HPV vaccines available:
Experts recommend that all females between the ages of 9 and 26 get an HPV vaccine. About half of all new infections are diagnosed in girls and young women between 15 and 24 years of age, so early vaccination is important. Males between the ages of 9 and 26 should also get the vaccine to prevent genital warts and some cancers.
The vaccine is given in three doses. The second shot should be given one to two months after the first, and the third shot should be given six months after the first. The goal is to get all three shots within six months. Ideally, people should complete all three shots before they become sexually active. However, those who are eligible and are sexually active should still get the vaccine.
HPV vaccines have been used in many countries around the world for several years, and both vaccines appear to be safe and well tolerated. There have been some mild to moderate reactions reported from people who have received the vaccines, the most common of which is pain, redness, and swelling around where the shot was given. Other mild reactions reported include fever, headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Some people have experienced fainting as well.
As with any vaccine or medication, there is always a possible of a serious problem, such allergic reaction. However, such reactions are rare and HPV vaccine continue to be monitored for any safety concerns.
Each state decides whether or not to require vaccinations for enrollment in childcare or school attendance.
According to the National Conference for State Legislators (NCSL), legislators in at least 41 states and D.C. have introduced legislation to require the vaccine, fund or educate the public about the HPV vaccine since 2006, and at least 22 states have enacted legislation. Currently, only Virginia and the District of Columbia have requiremnts for HPV vaccination for school. However, parents can opt out of vaccination requirements.
See the NCSL website for up to date, state-specific information.
The vast majority of health insurance plans report including most or all of the ACIP recommended vaccines in their benefits for children adolescents and adults.
For those that qualify, HPV vaccines are also available through the federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. The VFC program provides free vaccinations for children aged 18 and under who meet at least one of the following criteria: 1) Medicaid eligible; 2) uninsured; 3) underinsured; or 4) Native American or Alaska Native. More information on the VFC program is available here.
While some parents have expressed a concern that vaccinating their children against HPV will lead to increased sexual behavior, several studies have shown this not to be the case. While many studies relied upon self-reported behavior about sexual activity, a 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics instead looked at medical data, including pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection testing or diagnosis, and contraceptive counseling as evidence of sexually activity. The researchers found that HPV vaccination in the recommended ages was not associated with increased sexual activity.
Yes! HPV vaccines will not eliminate all HPV or cervical cancer. The vaccines prevent the HPV types that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases, but there are other types of HPV (not covered in the vaccine) that could cause disease.
In addtion to regular Pap tests, women 30 and over can also request an HPV test along with their Pap. Unlike a Pap test, which only detects abnormal cell changes, an HPV test can be used to find one or more of the high-risk types of HPV that are most commonly found with cervical cancer. Most women under 30 with HPV will get rid of the virus, so the HPV test for younger women isn’t helpful.