Available vaccines: Gardasil 9, Gardasil, Cervarix

Human Papillomavirus

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 viruses transmitted by vaginal, anal, or oral sex. In the United States, there are approximately 80 million people (almost 1 in 4 individuals) that are currently infected with HPV, and it is so common that nearly everyone will get it at some point in their lives. HPV can be transmitted even if an individual is not exhibiting any signs or symptoms of the disease making it difficult to know when the illness was contracted.

Most of the time, HPV will resolve on its own within 2 years and will be asymptomatic. In some cases people will present with genital warts (varying sizes, cauliflower shaped), and the most concerning complication with HPV include development of cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and back of the oropharynx (including the tongue and tonsils).

Over 30,000 people are affected by HPV cancers each year. There is screening available for cervical cancer (routine pap smears), but there is currently no screening for the other cancers.

HPV Vaccine

Of the 30,700 cases of cancer diagnosed annually in the United States caused by HPV, approximately 28,000 cases could be prevented through receipt of the HPV vaccine. All available vaccines prevent HPV 16 and HPV 18, which are the two high-risk strains that cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers and a higher percentage of other HPV-associated cancers. Gardasil prevents infection from HPV 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts, and Gardasil-9 prevents infection from an additional five high-risk HPV types.

It is important to note the vaccines do NOT protect against other sexually transmitted diseases, and the vaccines do not treat existing HPV infections of diseases.

The HPV vaccines do not protect against all strains of the virus, and women should continue to seek cervical cancer screening.

Who Should Get the Vaccine?

The vaccine is indicated in women up to age 26 years and men up to age 21 years. HPV is also indicated in men who have sex with men or identify as gay or bisexual, transgender young adults, and young adults who are immunocompromised through age 26 years.

Children who are aged 11 or 12 years should get two doses of the HPV vaccine 6 to 12 months apart. If the second dose is administered less than 5 months apart, a third dose is recommended.

Teenagers aged 14 years or older are recommended to receive three shots every 6 months.

Three doses of the vaccine are also recommended for individuals aged 9 to 26 years who are immunocompromised.

Who Should NOT Get the Vaccine

Individuals who had a severe allergic reaction to the HPV vaccine in the past should not receive the HPV vaccine. The quadrivalent and 9-valent HPV vaccines contain yeast and are contraindicated in individuals with an immediate hypersensitivity to yeast. The vaccine should not be administered to someone who is currently moderately or severely ill.

Side Effects

The most common side effects from the HPV vaccine are injection-site reactions, dizziness, fainting, nausea, and headache.

Insurance Coverage

Most private health insurances cover the vaccines.

Medicaid covers HPV vaccines per the ACIP vaccination recommendations; immunizations are required to be covered in individuals under age 21 years old enrolled in Medicaid.

The Vaccines for Children Program may be able to help individuals who do not have health insurance coverage for their child or if their insurances does not cover vaccines.

Merck (manufacturer of Gardisil and Gardisil-9) offers a vaccine assistance program for individuals who meet certain criteria. See www.merckhelps.com for more information.