Human Papillomavirus Vaccine

Human Papillomavirus Vaccine

(HPV Vaccine)

What Is Human Papillomavirus?

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of more than 100 viruses.

Certain types of HPV can cause genital warts, which are growths or bumps that appear:

  • On the vulva
  • In or around the vagina or anus
  • On the cervix
  • On the penis, scrotum, groin, or thigh

Some strains of HPV are linked to cervical cancer. Other strains are linked to cancers of the vulva, anus, throat, and penis but this is less common.

HPV is easily spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner. Many people will be exposed to a form of HPV at some point in their lives. Not all will become infected or have symptoms.

What Is the HPV Vaccine?

The HPV vaccine contains pieces that mimic part of the virus. It cannot cause an infection. The pieces do teach the body to recognize and attack any HPV that enters the body. The body does this by making HPV antibodies. The vaccine is given by injection into the muscle.

The vaccine protects against 9 types of HPV strains. It can help to prevent:

  • Genital warts
  • Precancerous lesions on the genitals (in women)
  • Cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, and anus

Who Should Be Vaccinated and When?

The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys between 11 to 12 years old (2 doses at least 6 months apart). The vaccine may be given starting at 9 years old. For the vaccine to be most effective, adolescents should complete the series before their first sexual contact for the best effect. This allows enough time for an immune response to develop.

Although 11 to 12 years is the ideal start time, children 13 and 14 can still have the 2 shot vaccine schedule. People 15 to 26 years old can also have the vaccine but a 3 shot series will be needed.

What Are the Risks Associated With the HPV Vaccine?

The vaccine does not appear to cause any serious side effects in most people. Some may have problems, such as a severe allergic reaction, but it is rare.

Common mild issues are pain, redness, swelling, or itching at the injection site. Some also report:

  • Headache
  • Mild to moderate fever
  • Fainting
  • Rarely, severe shoulder pain

Who Should Not Be Vaccinated?

Do not get the vaccine if you:

  • Had a life-threatening allergic reaction to yeast or any other component of the vaccine.
  • Are or may be pregnant.
  • Are moderately or severely ill. Wait until you have recovered.

What Other Ways Can HPV Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

Avoiding physical contact with an infected sexual partner is the only way to prevent HPV infection. Latex condoms may help reduce the spread. However, condoms are not 100% effective because they do not cover the entire genital area. Other steps that may prevent an infection include:

  • Sexual abstinence
  • Having sexual relationship with just 1 person
  • Regular check-ups for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Pap smears for women, starting at age 21 to screen for cervical cancer

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection. The best way to prevent further spread of the disease is to get the vaccine.

National Cancer Institute
Vaccine and Immunizations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: December 6, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). FDA licensure of quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV4, Gardasil) for use in males and guidance from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2010;59(20):630-632.
Carter JR, Ding Z, Rose BR. HPV infection and cervical disease: a review. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2011;51(2):103-108.
Heffernan ME, Garland SM, Kane MA. Global reduction of cervical cancer with human papillomavirus vaccines: insights from the hepatitis B virus vaccine experience. Sex Health. 2010;7(3):383-390.
HPV (human papillomavirus) VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: December 6, 2020.
Human papillomavirus vaccine. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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December 6, 2020.
Immunization schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: December 6, 2020.
Last reviewed November 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 11/23/2020

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