The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine

The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. It is recommended for preteen and teen boys and girls to protect them from the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the serious health problems that the virus can cause, including certain cancers and genital warts.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. But, since HPV usually causes no symptoms, most people will never even know they have it. Even so, they can pass the disease to others. For most people, HPV will eventually clear up on its own. But for others, the untreated infection could cause genital warts and certain kinds of cancer. About 26,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed each year. Most could be prevented with the HPV vaccine.

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Who should get the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is recommended for boys and girls at 11 or 12 years old. The preteen years are the best time to vaccinate because the vaccine is most effective if it's given long before first sexual contact and first exposure to the virus.

Older teens and young adults can also benefit from the HPV vaccine even if they are sexually active. The vaccine will protect them from the most common types of HPV. There are about 40 different types of HPV. Girls can get the vaccine through age 26, and most boys can get the vaccine through age 21.

The HPV vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (or any man who has sex with men). Men and women through age 26 with weak immune systems (including people living with HIV/AIDS) also should get the vaccine.

Who recommends the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which is a group of medical and public health experts that develops recommendations on how to use vaccines to control diseases in the United States.

The HPV vaccine is also recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine.

Why is the HPV vaccine recommended?

The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect against the serious health problems that HPV can cause. HPV is the main cause of genital warts in men and women. It can also cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women, cancer of the penis in men, and cancers of the anus and the mouth or throat, in both women and men. Most of these diseases could be prevented with the HPV vaccine.

How is the HPV vaccine given?

The vaccine is given in three shots over 6 months. If your child has had some of the HPV shots, but not all three, talk with your doctor about completing the series so he or she will have full protection.

The shots can be given at the same time as other recommended vaccines for preteens and teens including:

  • Tdap (which prevents tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Meningococcal (which prevents meningitis)
  • Flu vaccine

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes. The HPV vaccine has been administered since 2006 in the United States and even longer in other countries. Studies have shown that it is very safe. More than 57 million people have been given the vaccine and there have been no serious safety concerns.

The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue to monitor the vaccine's safety very carefully. These studies continue to show that HPV vaccines are safe. An overview of these studies can be found at www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Vaccines/HPV/#data.

What are the side effects of the HPV vaccine?

Common, mild side effects include pain at the injection site, low-grade fever, dizziness, and nausea. Some preteens and teens might faint after getting the vaccine, which is not uncommon when young people get shots. It is recommended that adolescents sit or lie down for 15 minutes after getting the shot. Serious side effects are rare.

Who should not be vaccinated?

Anyone who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to any component of HPV vaccine, or to a previous dose of HPV vaccine, should not get the vaccine. Tell your doctor about any severe allergies, including an allergy to latex or yeast.

HPV vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women. Women who are breastfeeding may get the vaccine.

People who are mildly ill when a dose of HPV vaccine is planned can still be vaccinated.

How can I pay for the HPV vaccine?

All private insurance plans regulated by New York State are required to cover the cost of all ACIP-recommended vaccines, including HPV, for patients through the age of 18. All other private insurance plans should be contacted individually to determine their coverage of HPV vaccination.

A federal program called the Vaccines for Children (VCF) Program can help pay for your child's vaccines if he or she is 18 or younger and is not insured or is underinsured, eligible for Medicaid, an American Indian or an Alaska Native. For more information, visit www.health.ny.gov/prevention/immunization/vaccines_for_children.htm.

What if someone is uninsured or underinsured and older than 18?

Two pharmaceutical companies – Merck and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) – have patient assistance programs which offer help for individuals 19-26 years of age who cannot afford HPV vaccination. You can reach the Merck Vaccine Patient Assistance Program by calling (toll-free) 1-800-293-3881. GSK's Vaccine Access Program can be reached (toll-free) at 1-877-822-2911.

How can I learn more about the HPV vaccine?

Talk to your child's doctor and review the additional resources listed below.

Additional Resources for Parents

Additional Resources for Providers