A Reader’s Guide to the HPV Vaccine

HPV is the most com­mon sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted infec­tion, affect­ing near­ly 14 mil­lion adults and teens each year. Due to its promi­nence, the FDA has now approved the HPV vac­cine for indi­vid­u­als aged 9 – 45, mean­ing adults and chil­dren can be pro­tect­ed from the virus by receiv­ing the HPV vaccine.

What is HPV?

The Human Papil­lo­mavirus (HPV) is an umbrel­la term for more than 150 relat­ed virus­es, each with its own iden­ti­fy­ing num­ber, or HPV type. HPV gets its name due to warts (papil­lo­ma) that some strains of HPV can cause. HPV is the most com­mon sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted infec­tion and is pri­mar­i­ly trans­ferred through skin-to-skin con­tact, includ­ing oral, vagi­nal and anal sex. This strain of virus­es can be trans­mit­ted by any­one that is sex­u­al­ly active, regard­less of the num­ber of sex­u­al part­ners they have or they have had. While many HPV infec­tions may resolve on their own and nev­er dis­play symp­toms, some strains of the virus may cause symp­toms many years after con­trac­tion and can even cause cer­tain types of cancer.

Why you should con­sid­er HPV vaccination

As the most com­mon sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted infec­tion, HPV infects about 14 mil­lion peo­ple, includ­ing both adults and teens, each year. Teens and young adults are among the largest pop­u­la­tions liv­ing with this virus. About 50 per­cent of infect­ed indi­vid­u­als are between ages 15 to 24. While most HPV infec­tions resolve on their own with­out symp­toms, about 32,500 men and women devel­op HPV-relat­ed can­cers each year. There is no cur­rent treat­ment for HPV, how­ev­er, you can pre­vent the infec­tion by get­ting vac­ci­nat­ed and using con­doms. Ben­e­fits to the HPV vac­cine include:

  • Pre­vent­ing more than 90 per­cent of can­cers caused by HPV
  • Effec­tive­ly pre­vents gen­i­tal warts
  • Since the vac­cine’s intro­duc­tion, infec­tions with the strains of HPV that cause most HPV relat­ed can­cers and gen­i­tal warts have dropped near­ly 71% among teen girls

Types of HPV Vaccines

There are cur­rent­ly two avail­able forms of the HPV vac­cine designed to pre­vent the virus. These include:

  • Gar­dasil — Gar­dasil pre­vents HPV-16 and HPV-18 infec­tions, as well as HPV‑6 and HPV-11 infec­tions (the two strains of HPV that cause 90 per­cent of gen­i­tal warts). Gar­dasil is used to min­i­mize the risk of can­cers of the cervix, vul­va, vagi­na, anus, penis and throat.
  • Gar­dasil ® 9 — Gar­dasil 9 pre­vents infec­tion by the same HPV strains as Gar­dasil, as well as pro­tec­tion against HPV-31, HPV-33, HPV-45, HPV-52 and HPV-58. Togeth­er these strains are impli­cat­ed in 90 per­cent of cer­vi­cal cancers.

Sim­i­lar to oth­er vac­cines, the HPV vac­cine is made from one pro­tein of the virus and is not infec­tious. This means that the vac­cine can­not cause HPV infec­tion or cancer.

Poten­tial HPV Vac­cine Side Effects

Like all med­ica­tions and vac­cines, the HPV vac­cine has poten­tial side effects. While the vac­cine is safe and effec­tive, com­mon side effects include:

  • Pain, red­ness or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Headache or feel­ing fatigued
  • Nau­sea
  • Mus­cle or joint pain

The HPV Vac­cine for Children/​Teens vs. Adults

The vac­cine is impor­tant in pro­tect­ing against HPV-caused can­cers and gen­i­tal warts in both children/​teens and adult men and women. How­ev­er, while ben­e­fi­cial for both, the rec­om­mend­ed vac­ci­na­tion sched­ule varies depend­ing on age, pre­vi­ous HPV vac­ci­na­tions and the time between receiv­ing the vac­ci­na­tion doses. 


The HPV vac­cine offers the best pro­tec­tion for boys and girls who com­plete the full vac­ci­na­tion series and have time to devel­op an immune response before they engage in sex­u­al activ­i­ty with anoth­er per­son. The rec­om­mend­ed sched­ule for children/​teens is as follows: 

  • Chil­dren and teens should receive the vac­ci­na­tion around ages 11 and 12
  • The vac­cine should be admin­is­tered in two shots giv­en 6 to 12 months apart
  • Ado­les­cents who receive their shots less than five months apart will require a third dose of the vaccine
  • If your child is old­er than 14, they will require three dos­es of the vac­cine over a 6‑month period.

Teen boys and girls who did not start or did not fin­ish the com­plete vac­ci­na­tion series at the rec­om­mend­ed age should receive the vac­cine as soon as pos­si­ble. It is nev­er too late for chil­dren and teens to receive and ben­e­fit from the vaccination.


In Octo­ber of 2018, the US FDA expand­ed its rec­om­men­da­tion for those to be vac­ci­nat­ed to include women and men aged 27 – 45. Gar­dasil 9 is now approved for females and males between the ages of 9 and 45. While the vac­cine is most effec­tive when giv­en dur­ing child­hood and ado­les­cence, adults can also ben­e­fit from the vac­cine. Help­ful infor­ma­tion for adult vac­ci­na­tion includes:

  • Two dos­es of the HPV vac­cine are rec­om­mend­ed for adults
  • Re-vac­ci­na­tion is rec­om­mend­ed for adults who received the vac­cine in child­hood but did not com­plete the series in its entirety

The HPV vac­cine is rec­om­mend­ed for most men and women between the ages of 9 and 45, how­ev­er, indi­vid­u­als who should not receive the vac­cine include:

  • Any­one who has had a life-threat­en­ing aller­gic reac­tion to a pre­vi­ous dose of the vaccine
  • Any­one who has had a pre­vi­ous life-threat­en­ing aller­gic reac­tion to an ingre­di­ent in the HPV vaccine
  • Preg­nant women
  • Those with a mod­er­ate or severe ill­ness; peo­ple who feel mild­ly ill can still receive the vaccine

The most effec­tive way to reduce your risk of HPV is to receive the vac­cine in con­junc­tion with prac­tic­ing safe sex. If you are under the age of 45 and have not received the com­plete series of Gar­dasil or Gar­dasil 9, or would like to learn more about receiv­ing the HPV vac­cine sched­ule an appoint­ment online with your pri­ma­ry care provider. 

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