HPV Vaccine Q&A

HPV Vaccine Q&A

Maybe your doctor or your child’s pediatrician has recommended the HPV vaccine (also known by its brand names, Gardasil and Cervarix) and you’re wondering if it’s necessary. Or maybe you’ve heard some people say they’re opting out of it and you’re wondering why.

If you’re weighing whether or not you or your child should get the HPV vaccine, we want to help you make an informed decision. So here are some common questions and answers about HPV and the vaccine.

What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. HPV is a common virus that passes from one person to another through direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. There are more than 150 strains of HPV   According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about one in four people in the United States are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people, including teenagers, become infected each year. HPV infections are most common among people in their late teens and early twenties.

How dangerous is HPV?

Most people with HPV never develop symptoms and don’t even realize they have it. The CDC estimates that 9 out of 10 cases of infection go away within two years without any complications or treatment. (

Sometimes, though, HPV can cause cancer – cervical cancer and other cancers that aren’t very common, like cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva, and throat. Every year, HPV causes cancer in about 30,700 people.

How effective is the HPV vaccine?

The CDC states that the HPV vaccine is “highly effective” (close to 100%) in preventing the types of HPV targeted by the vaccine.  The types of HPV that the vaccine targets are the types most likely to cause cancer and genital warts. Since 2006, when the doctors began recommending the vaccine, HPV infections among teenage girls have decreased by 64%.

If people have already been sexually active and exposed to HPV, the vaccine is less likely to protect them because the vaccine doesn’t treat existing infections or associated diseases.

The HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against every type of HPV, so the vaccine won’t prevent all cases of cervical cancer. Gardasil targets four types of HPV and Cervarix targets two types.

How long does the HPVvaccine last?

Current studies have followed people for ten years, and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the protection has weakened over those ten years.

How safe is this vaccine?

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved the vaccine, and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has recommended it. The FDA approved Gardasil in 2006 and Cervarix in 2009.

What are the possible side effects?

Common side effects from the vaccine are pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the vaccine was given, fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, and muscle or joint pain. Brief fainting spells are also listed as a potential side effect.

In rare cases, someone will have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine. If you’re allergic to other vaccines, talk with your doctor about whether you’re more likely to be allergic to this one.

Why are some people choosing not to get this vaccine?

Some parents are concerned with the safety of this vaccine. Though the FDA has approved it and the CDC recommends it, some parents worry that it’s relatively new and want to wait until it’s been used for a longer time to make sure there aren’t any long-term side effects. The Department of Health and Human Services’ National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has recorded 123 cases in which a person injured by the HPV vaccine was awarded money.

Between the time the vaccine was recommended in 2006 and March of 2014, about 67 million doses of HPV were given and about 25,063 complaints about the vaccine were reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). Some of these complaints (about 92%) were for relatively minor issues, like fainting. But some of the complaints were for blood clotting and neurological disorders. The CDC maintains that the HPV vaccine is as safe as the meningitis and Tdap vaccines, which are routinely given.

Will the HPV vaccine prevent all cases of cervical cancer or genital warts?

No. Though the success rate is very high for the types of HPV the vaccines target, the vaccines do not target all the types of HPV that can cause cancer or genital warts.
The only way to 100% prevent HPV is to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who does not have HPV (you only ever have any type of sexual activity with each other).

Have other questions? We totally understand this isn’t a black and white decision. There are many aspects to consider so we encourage you to weigh your individual risks and benefits regarding this vaccine. Have conversations with other people who are in a similar situation as you. It always helps to see other perspectives.

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