Is it worth getting HPV vaccine?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps prevent infection from certain types of HPV that can lead to several types of cancer. HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen boys and girls at age 11 or 12 so they are protected before ever being exposed to the virus. However, the vaccination is also recommended for teen boys and girls through age 21 if not previously vaccinated.

Here we provide answers to common questions about the HPV vaccine and its benefits.

What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is a very common virus. There are over 100 varieties of HPV, over 40 of which can be easily spread through direct sexual contact. Different types of HPV infection affect different body parts. For example, some types lead to warts or abnormal tissue growths in the throat, while others specifically affect the genitals.

Genital HPV types fall into two categories: low-risk and high-risk. Low-risk HPVs mostly cause no symptoms, but can cause genital warts. High-risk HPVs have the potential to cause cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth and throat. However, most high-risk HPV infections go away on their own and do not cause cancer.

Why get vaccinated against HPV?

There are two main reasons to get the HPV vaccine:

  1. Cancer prevention: The HPV vaccine protects against infection from high-risk HPV types that cause about 70% of cervical cancers and an even higher percentage of some other cancers like anal cancer. Vaccination can prevent most of these cancers from ever developing.
  2. Genital warts prevention: The vaccine also protects against the types of HPV that cause 90% of genital warts.

The HPV vaccine produces antibodies that help the body clear the virus if exposed. This means there is a much lower chance of persistent infection that can lead to cancer or warts down the line.

How effective is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine has been proven to be extremely effective.

Clinical trials found the vaccine provides nearly 100% protection against persistent infections and precancers caused by the HPV types covered by the vaccine. Among people who did not already have a vaccine-type HPV infection when vaccinated, the vaccines reduced the risk of cervical precancers by 93%.

The vaccines provide long-lasting protection. Most people who receive all recommended doses of the vaccine will be protected against HPV for at least 10 to 15 years, possibly longer.

The vaccine even provides some protection against HPV strains it was not specifically designed for. It reduces rates of these non-targeted infections by at least 20%.

However, the vaccine is less effective if given after exposure to one of the vaccine HPV types. It will not treat existing HPV infections or problems like genital warts that are already present. This is why getting vaccinated at age 11 or 12 offers the best protection.

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes, the HPV vaccine has a very good safety record. The vaccines originally underwent extensive testing with over 74,000 people before being approved. Since then, over 100 million doses have been administered just in the United States. Ongoing monitoring continues to show the vaccines are safe.

The most common side effects are mild. They include pain and redness in the arm where the shot was given, fever, dizziness and nausea. These go away on their own within a day or two.

Severe allergic reactions can occur after any vaccination. But this is extremely rare with the HPV vaccine. Only around 2 cases per million doses have been reported.

There is no evidence the HPV vaccine causes any long-term health problems. Its safety is monitored by multiple agencies and healthcare providers.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

The CDC recommends routine HPV vaccination for both boys and girls starting at age 11 or 12, up until age 26. Catch-up vaccination is recommended for males up to age 21 and females up to age 26 if they have not been adequately vaccinated before.

It is ideal to get the shots before any exposure to HPV occurs through sexual contact. However, even those who are sexually active can benefit. The vaccine prevents against strains a person has not yet acquired.

The vaccine can even be started as early as age 9. Children with a history of sexual abuse may receive their first dose starting at 9 years.

Getting vaccinated past age 26 is less common. The vaccine is not licensed or recommended for men past 26 or women over age 45. However, some adults ages 27 to 45 may decide to get the vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk factors and the potential benefits.

How many doses are needed?

All children under 15 need 2 doses of the HPV vaccine. The doses are given 6-12 months apart. Children with weakened immune systems may need a third dose.

For those 15 and older, 3 doses are recommended over 6 months. The second dose is given 1 to 2 months after the first, and the third dose comes 6 months after the first.

How much does the HPV vaccine cost?

The HPV vaccine is covered under almost all health insurance plans. Out-of-pocket costs depend on the plan and deductibles. Under the Affordable Care Act, private insurance plans must cover all recommended vaccines without charging a copay or deductible when received from an in-network provider.

Those without insurance can get the vaccine at little to no cost through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program if under 18. Free or low-cost vaccines may also be available for uninsured adults at certain clinics or community health centers.

The total cost for getting all required doses ranges from $400-$500 on average if paying out-of-pocket. However, again, the vaccine should be covered at no charge for most people with health insurance.

Are there any reasons to not get the HPV vaccine?

There are very few reasons not to get the HPV vaccine. These include:

  • Having a severe life-threatening allergy to any component of the vaccine
  • Being sick with a moderate or severe illness
  • Pregnancy – the vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy

Tell your doctor about any severe allergies you may have. The vaccine can be safely given after an illness is recovered from. It is advised to get the vaccine at least 1 month before becoming pregnant.

There is no evidence the vaccine causes fertility or pregnancy problems. The HPV vaccine can still be given while breastfeeding.

Does the HPV vaccine encourage sexual activity?

No. There is no evidence that receiving the HPV vaccine makes people more likely to start having sex or engage in riskier sexual behaviors.

Multiple studies that have analyzed sexual activity rates in girls before and after HPV vaccination have found no increase. Rather, girls who got the vaccine often had lower rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The vaccine encourages better overall sexual health.

Do boys and men need the HPV vaccine too?

Yes. HPV vaccination is recommended for boys and men up to age 26, for several reasons:

  • It prevents direct health risks to males, like genital warts, anal cancer and some oral cancers caused by HPV.
  • It reduces the risk of HPV transmission between partners. Vaccinating both women and men maximizes herd immunity.
  • It is most effective when administered before exposure through sexual contact.

HPV vaccination was previously just advised for girls because cervical cancer research was more robust. Now HPV is known to pose risks to both genders.

Are Pap tests still needed after HPV vaccination?

Yes. Routine cervical cancer screening is still recommended starting at age 21, even for those vaccinated against HPV. This is because:

  • No vaccine is 100% effective.
  • There are some rarer types of cervical cancer not caused by HPV that screening can detect.
  • Not everyone gets all the recommended doses of the vaccine to achieve maximum protection.

However, cervical screening guidelines have changed. The Pap test every 3 years can now start later, at age 25 instead of 21, for those vaccinated against HPV. The vaccine makes screening less necessary in young women.

Can the vaccine be given during pregnancy or while breastfeeding?

The HPV vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy as a precaution. However, there is no evidence it causes problems. Getting the vaccine shortly before a pregnancy is not a cause for concern.

Women who realize they were pregnant when vaccinated or got pregnant within 30 days of HPV vaccination are still encouraged to complete the full vaccine series. The vaccine appears to be safe during pregnancy and poses minimal theoretical risk.

Breastfeeding is not a problem. HPV vaccination is safe during lactation and may provide protection to the child when they are older via breast milk antibodies.

How long does HPV vaccine protection last?

Research suggests the vaccine provides long-lasting protection of at least 10 years for most people. Immunity has been shown to still be strong after 12 years.

How long protection truly lasts beyond 12 years is still being studied. But data so far suggests the vaccine provides protection for many years after the shots are completed.

Why is the HPV vaccine given at age 11 or 12 vs later?

There are two main reasons the CDC recommends HPV vaccination start at age 11-12:

  1. Better immune response – Younger children have a stronger immune reaction to the vaccine, conferring longer-lasting protection.
  2. Likely unexposed – Getting vaccinated before any HPV exposure allows the vaccine to most effectively prevent new infections and cancers that could otherwise result.

By age 11 or 12, few adolescents have been exposed to HPV through sexual activity. Starting at this age provides early and optimal defense against the virus.

Do I need the vaccine if not sexually active?

Yes. Here are some key reasons why the HPV vaccine is recommended even if you are not sexually active:

  • Almost all sexually active people will get exposed to HPV eventually. The vaccine protects before you become exposed.
  • HPV can be transmitted through intimate contact besides sexual intercourse.
  • The vaccine produces better immunity when given at 11-12 vs older ages.
  • You want to have protection already in place whenever starting sexual activity.

Think of the HPV vaccine as similar to other childhood immunizations that provide lifetime prevention against infectious diseases mainly encountered later.


The HPV vaccine is strongly recommended by healthcare organizations worldwide based on clear evidence of its safety, efficacy and lifelong health benefits. The vaccine effectively prevents HPV infection that leads to several types of cancer and genital warts.

Both girls and boys should receive routine HPV vaccination starting at 11 or 12 years old for optimal protection. The vaccine works best when administered before exposure to the virus through sexual contact. However, older teens and young adults can still gain substantial preventive benefits if not adequately vaccinated previously.

Overall, the HPV vaccine is an extremely valuable tool for reducing the risk of cervical, genital and other cancers caused by HPV. It is worth getting for almost all children and young adults to help prevent the serious consequences of HPV infection.

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