What You Need to Know About the HPV Vaccine
Nearly 1 in 4 Americans have human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that may cause genital warts and some types of cancer. The good news? There’s a vaccine available to prevent HPV and, in turn, the cancers it causes.
We talked to Gretchen Homan, MD, a pediatrician with Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, to get the facts about the HPV vaccine.
What cancers are caused by HPV?
Basically, all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. In addition, 91% of anal cancers and 72% of oral cancers are caused by HPV. The virus has also been linked to penile, vaginal and vulvar cancers.
Why is the HPV vaccine so important?
We know these cancers are almost always caused by HPV, so if we can provide a vaccine for it, we’re basically getting rid of all these cancers.
Who should get the HPV vaccine?
Boys and girls should get the first of the three-dose vaccine series at age 11 and complete the series within a year. We can vaccinate women up to age 26 and men up to age 21.
What does age have to do with the vaccination?
The vaccine is more effective if we give it earlier—the immune response in the body is stronger when we vaccinate the kids at age 11.
What are the different types of HPV vaccines?
There are three different types of HPV vaccines used to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts:
- HPV quadrivalent (Gardasil): Until recently, this was the most popular vaccine in the U.S. used to prevent HPV 16, 18, 6 and 11.
- 9-Valent (Gardasil 9): Most doctors in the U.S. are using this vaccine now as it protects against additional strains of HPV and provides broader coverage.
- Bivalent (Cervarix): Used mainly on people with an allergy to yeast, the bivalent vaccine prevents HPV 16 and 18, the two strains of the virus responsible for causing 70% of cervical cancers.
How safe is the vaccine?
As of 2014, 67 million doses of the quadrivalent vaccine were given and, of those, only a miniscule number of patients experienced any problems. The most common adverse effect is a local reaction, such as pain or redness at the site of the injection. Some patients may feel lightheaded, so we make sure they’ve had something to eat before the vaccine and that they rest afterwards.
How long does the vaccine protection last?
At this point, there are no recommendations for booster doses of the vaccine after you complete the three-dose series.
Are there any other ways to prevent HPV?
The only other way to prevent HPV would be to never have sexual contact.