HPV stands for human papillomavirus. You can get HPV by having sex or skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus. Infection with HPV is common, especially among young people. Half of all sexually active people in the United States will get HPV.1 But most people never know they have the virus, because it may not cause any symptoms.
There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus. But only some types of HPV lead to cervical cancer or genital warts.
The HPV vaccines can help protect people from being infected with some of the most common types of the virus. The HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect girls and young women against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.
Females may use either Cervarix or Gardasil. Males may use Gardasil.
The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For the vaccine to work best, all three shots must be given.
The vaccine doesn't treat an HPV infection. But it may protect a person against types of the HPV virus other than the one causing the infection.
Health insurance may cover all or part of the cost of the vaccine. But if you don't have health insurance, check with your local health department, clinic, or hospital. Girls and boys 18 or younger can get the HPV vaccine for a low cost or even for free through the Vaccines for Children program.
It is recommended for children age 11 or 12 but can be given as early as age 9. For girls who have not already gotten the vaccine, it is recommended up to age 26. For boys who have not already gotten the shot, the vaccine is recommended up to age 21.
The best time for your child to get the vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active. This is because the vaccine works best before there is any chance of infection with HPV. When the vaccine is given at this time, it can prevent almost all infection by the types of HPV the vaccine guards against.2
The vaccine can reduce the risk of your child getting genital warts or cervical cancer caused by some of the most common types of HPV infection. The HPV vaccine also protects against anogenital cancers. Research is under way to see if the vaccine can be used to prevent oral cancers also.3
The HPV vaccines were tested in thousands of people before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there were no serious side effects. You can't get HPV from the vaccine, and it doesn't contain mercury.
The vaccine series protects against the two or four types of HPV for at least 5 years. Studies are under way to see how long the vaccine will last and if a booster shot is needed. A booster shot is another dose of the vaccine that is given after the first series of shots.
Some people may have mild side effects such as a low-grade fever and soreness in the arm where the shot was given. But neither lasts long. The doctor may have you stay in the office for up to 15 minutes after the shot is given, to watch for any reactions.
Some parents may worry about talking to their young child about the HPV vaccine, because they think it means they have to have the "sex talk." But you don't have to talk to your child about sex if you're not ready. Your child may get other vaccines when he or she is 11 and 12, such as a meningitis shot or a tetanus booster shot. You may want to start the HPV vaccine series when he or she receives these other shots. You can tell your child that these vaccines can help keep him or her healthy and prevent cancer and other illnesses later in life.
If you do decide to talk to your child about HPV and the vaccine, it doesn't mean you're giving your child permission to have sex. It's a chance to teach your child about safer sex and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This information will be important for when he or she is older and making choices about sex.
Even though the HPV vaccine protects against most cervical cancers, your daughter will need to get regular Pap tests to check for cervical cancer. This is because there are some types of HPV that the vaccine doesn't prevent. Pap tests look for cells that may be, or can lead to, cervical cancer. If these cells are found early and treated, you may prevent cervical cancer. Experts recommend that women start having Pap tests at age 21.
|Have your child get the HPV vaccine||Don't have your child get the HPV vaccine|
|What is usually involved?|
|What are the benefits?|
|What are the risks and side effects?|
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
"I want my son to be protected against HPV, but I was worried about how to talk to him about this vaccine. I didn't want to talk to him about sex or STIs, because he seemed too young. Then the nurse at the doctor's office said my son needed to have other vaccines and we could start them all at the same time. I told Lou that all of these shots would help keep him from getting sick both now and when he is older."
— Carmen, mom of 10-year-old Lou
"My daughter is away at her first year of college. We talked about safer sex before she left for school and I trust that she will make smart choices. When I told her about the vaccine, she told me she isn't having sex yet and doesn't want to get the vaccine. At this point, all I can do is give her the information and hope she gets the vaccine when she is ready."
— Rhonda, mom of 19-year-old Simone
"It's just me and Owen at home. I wasn't sure I could answer all of his questions about sex, so we are taking a sex education class together. Talking to him about a vaccine to prevent an STI in the future is a good way for us to start talking about safer sex."
— Brad, dad of 12-year-old Owen
"My daughter is young, and the HPV vaccine is pretty new. I want her to be protected, but I decided to wait and make this decision when she is a few years older."
— Janice, mom of 9-year-old Courtney
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to have your child get the HPV vaccine
Reasons not to have your child get the HPV vaccine
From what I've heard about the vaccine, I believe it's safe for my child to get it.
I'm concerned about side effects from the vaccine.
I want to protect my child from getting genital warts and cervical cancer.
I'm not worried about my child getting genital warts or cervical cancer.
My child knows that getting the vaccine doesn't mean permission to have sex.
I'm worried that my child may think that it's okay to have sex because he or she got the vaccine.
My child doesn't mind getting shots.
My child hates getting shots.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
Having my child get the HPV vaccine
NOT having my child get the HPV vaccine
1. The best time for my child to get the HPV vaccine is before he or she becomes sexually active.
2. My child will need to get three shots of the HPV vaccine.
3. The HPV vaccine will protect my child from getting some of the most common types of HPV.
1. Do you understand the options available to you?
2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.
3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology|
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Human papillomavirus (HPV) Infection section of Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR, 59(RR12): 1–116. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5912a1.htm?s_cid=rr5912a1_w.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). HPV Vaccine Information For Young Women - Fact Sheet. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Vital Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (9/15/11). Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/STDFact-HPV-vaccine-young-women.htm.