The following are common questions and answers on the HPV Vaccine.

Why should my child be vaccinated with the HPV Vaccine?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common virus that is passed from one person to another through direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity.  Most sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will not be aware of it.  HPV infection is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s. There are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas of men and women.  These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. 

Most HPV types cause no symptoms and the body’s immune system clears them naturally within two years. But some types can cause cervical cancer in women. Every year, about 11,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 women die from this disease in the U.S. Other less common cancers that can be associated with HPV include cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, and vulva (area around the opening of the vagina) and oropharynx (back of throat including base of tongue and tonsils). Other types of HPV can cause genital warts which are not life-threatening but can cause emotional stress and treatment can be uncomfortable. About 1 in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. have genital warts at any point in time.

What types of vaccines are available?

Two vaccines are available to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV) types that cause most cervical cancers. These vaccines are Cervarix (GlaxoSmithKline) and Gardasil (Merck). One of the HPV vaccines, Gardasil, also prevents genital warts as well as anal, vulvar and vaginal cancers. Both vaccines are given as 3 shots spaced over 6 months.

Who should receive the HPV vaccination?

HPV VaccineBoth vaccine types are licensed, safe, and effective for females ages 9 through 26 years although HPV vaccination is recommended (with either vaccine) for 11 and 12 year-old girls as this is a common time for a pre-teen health care visit .  It is also recommended for girls and women age 13 through 26 years of age who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the entire vaccine series. 

Ideally females should get the vaccine before they become sexually active and exposed to HPV. Females who are already sexually active may benefit from the vaccine, but may get less benefit from it as they may have already been exposed to the virus.

How Effective are the HPV Vaccines?

The vaccines target the HPV types that most commonly cause cervical cancer. One of the vaccines also protects against the HPV types that cause most genital warts. The vaccines do not protect against all HPV types— so they will not prevent all cases of cervical cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 30% of cervical cancers will not be prevented by the vaccines, so it will be important for women to continue getting screened for cervical cancer (regular Pap tests).

Both vaccines are highly effective in preventing specific HPV types and the most common health problems from HPV. Research suggests that vaccine protection is long-lasting. Current studies (with up to about six years of follow-up information) indicate that the vaccines are effective, with no evidence of decreasing immunity.

Are the HPV vaccines safe?

Both vaccines have been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for females aged 9 through 26 years and approved by the (CDC) as safe and effective. Both vaccines were studied in thousands of people around the world and vaccine safety continues to be monitored by CDC and the FDA. These studies showed no serious safety concerns.  Common, mild adverse events reported during these studies include pain where the shot was given, fever, dizziness, and nausea.  People faint for many reasons. Some people may faint after getting any vaccine, including HPV vaccines. Falls and injuries can occur after fainting. Sitting or lying down for about 15 minutes after a shot is given can help prevent fainting and injuries.

Should boys and men be vaccinated as well?

The quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil) is considered safe and effective for males ages 9 through 26 years and licensed by the FDA for prevention of anal cancer and genital warts.  Since October 2009,  the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice’s guidance has been that the 3-dose series of quadrivalent HPV vaccine may be given to males aged 9 through 26 years to reduce their likelihood of acquiring genital warts and anal cancer.   The vaccine is not routinely recommended for administration to males but Parents of boys can decide if Gardasil is right for their sons by talking with their sons’ health care providers and young men can also discuss this vaccine with their doctors.

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HPV VaccineThis article is provided by Eric McGrath, MD, infectious diseases specialist at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan.  Visit http://www.childrensdmc.org/EricMcGrath for further information on Dr. McGrath.

For further information on pediatric health conditions and treatments please visit http://www.childrensdmc.org/healthlibrary. Additional information on immunizations can be found at www.cdc.gov or http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/parents-guide/downloads/parents-guide-508.pdf.