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How safe is the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

There is a vaccine for the pervasive disease HPV (human papillomavirus), but is that vaccine safe? In this video, Dr. Oz, Dr. Tanya Altmann, and Dr. Linda Lee discuss HPV and the side effects of the vaccine.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has a very good safety record. More than 67 million doses have been distributed in the US; in the years since HPV vaccine was routinely recommended in 2006, safety studies have continued to show that HPV vaccines are safe. Some preteens and teens may feel lightheaded, dizzy or like they may faint when getting any vaccine, including HPV vaccine. After a preteen or teen gets a vaccine, it is a good idea to keep them sitting for 15 minutes before leaving, just to make sure they don't get hurt from a fall caused by fainting.

Studies have shown that the human papillomavirus vaccine is very effective; one study showed that HPV vaccination helped to lower HPV infection rates in teen girls by half in the first four years after the vaccine was recommended in the US. Other studies have shown that genital warts and cervical precancers have also decreased in teens since the HPV vaccine came out.

Before any vaccine is licensed, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must determine that it is both safe and effective. Both Gardasil and Cervarix have been tested in tens of thousands of people in the United States and many other countries. Thus far, no serious side effects have been shown to be caused by the vaccines. The most common problems have been brief soreness and other local symptoms at the injection site. These problems are similar to ones commonly experienced with other vaccines. The vaccines have not been sufficiently tested during pregnancy and, therefore, should not be used by pregnant women.

A recent safety review by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considered adverse side effects related to Gardasil immunization that have been reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System since the vaccine was licensed. The rates of adverse side effects in the safety review were consistent with what was seen in safety studies carried out before the vaccine was approved and were similar to those seen with other vaccines. However, a higher proportion of syncope (fainting) and venous thrombolic events (blood clots) were seen with Gardasil than are usually seen with other vaccines. Falls after syncope may sometimes cause serious injuries, such as head injuries. These can largely be prevented by keeping the vaccinated person seated for up to 15 minutes after vaccination. The FDA and CDC have reminded health care providers that, to prevent falls and injuries, all vaccine recipients should remain seated or lying down and be closely observed for 15 minutes after vaccination.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.