Who should get the vaccine:
The HPV vaccine is recommended for 11-12 year-old girls,
and can be given to girls as young as 9. The vaccine is also
recommended for 13-26 year-old girls/women who have not yet
received or completed the vaccine series.
These recommendations have been proposed by the ACIP—a
national group of experts that advises the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on vaccine issues.
These recommendations are now being considered by CDC.
Why is the HPV vaccine recommended for such young
Ideally, females should get the vaccine before they are
sexually active. This is because the vaccine is most
effective in girls/women who have not yet acquired any of
the four HPV types covered by the vaccine. Girls/women who
have not been infected with any of those four HPV types will
get the full benefits of the vaccine.
Will sexually active females benefit from the
Females who are sexually active may also benefit from the
vaccine. But they may get less benefit from the vaccine
since they may have already acquired one or more HPV type(s)
covered by the vaccine. Few young women are infected with
all four of these HPV types. So they would still get
protection from those types they have not acquired.
Currently, there is no test available to tell if a
girl/woman has had any or all of these four HPV types.
Why is the HPV vaccine only recommended for
girls/women ages 9 to 26?
The vaccine has been widely tested in 9-to-26 year-old
girls/women. But research on the vaccine’s safety and
efficacy has only recently begun with women older than 26
years of age. The FDA will consider licensing the vaccine
for these women when there is research to show that it is
safe and effective for them.
What about vaccinating boys?
We do not yet know if the vaccine is effective in boys or
men. It is possible that vaccinating males will have health
benefits for them by preventing genital warts and rare
cancers, such as penile and anal cancer. It is also possible
that vaccinating boys/men will have indirect health benefits
for girls/women. Studies are now being done to find out if
the vaccine works to prevent HPV infection and disease in
males. When more information is available, this vaccine may
be licensed and recommended for boys/men as well.
Should pregnant women get the vaccine?
The vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women. There has
been limited research looking at vaccine safety for pregnant
women and their unborn babies. So far, studies suggest that
the vaccine has not caused health problems during
pregnancy, nor has it caused health problems for the
infant-- but more research is still needed. For now,
pregnant women should complete their pregnancy before
getting the vaccine. If a woman finds out she is pregnant
after she has started getting the vaccine series, she should
complete her pregnancy before finishing the three-dose
Efficacy of the vaccine
Studies have found the vaccine to be almost 100%
effective in preventing diseases caused by the four HPV
types covered by the vaccine– including precancers of the
cervix, vulva and vagina, and genital warts. The vaccine has
mainly been studied in young women who had not been exposed
to any of the four HPV types in the vaccine.
The vaccine was less effective in young women who had
already been exposed to one of the HPV types covered by the
This vaccine does not treat existing HPV infections,
genital warts, precancers or cancers.
How long does vaccine protection last? Will a
booster shot be needed?
The length of vaccine protection (immunity) is usually not
known when a vaccine is first introduced. So far, studies
have followed women for five years and found that women are
still protected. More research is being done to find out how
long protection will last, and if a booster vaccine is
needed years later.
What does the vaccine not protect
Because the vaccine does not protect against all
types of HPV, it will not prevent all cases of cervical
cancer or genital warts. About 30% of cervical cancers will
not be prevented by the vaccine, so it will be
important for women to continue getting screened for
cervical cancer (regular Pap tests). Also, the vaccine does
not prevent about 10% of genital warts—nor will it
prevent other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). So it
will still be important for sexually active adults to reduce
exposure to HPV and other STIs.
Will girls/women be protected against HPV and
related diseases, even if they don’t get all three doses?
It is not yet known how much protection girls/women would
get from receiving only one or two doses of the vaccine. For
this reason, it is very important that girls/women get
all three doses of the vaccine.
Safety of the vaccine
The FDA has licensed the HPV vaccine as safe and
effective. This vaccine has been tested in over 11,000
females (ages 9-26 years) around the world. These studies
have shown no serious side effects. The most common side
effect is soreness at the injection site. CDC, working with
the FDA, will continue to monitor the safety of the vaccine
after it is in general use.
Does this vaccine contain thimerosal or mercury?
No. There is no thimerosal or mercury in the HPV vaccine. It
is made up of proteins from the outer coat of the virus (HPV).
There is no infectious material in this vaccine.
Cost and coverage
The retail price of the vaccine is $120 per dose ($360
for full series).
Will the HPV vaccine be covered by insurance
While some insurance companies may cover the vaccine, others
may not. Most large insurance plans usually cover the costs
of recommended vaccines. However, there is often a short
lag-time after a vaccine is recommended, before it is
available and covered by health plans.
What kind of government programs may be available
to cover HPV vaccine?
Federal health programs such as Vaccines for Children (VFC)
will cover the HPV vaccine. The VFC program provides free
vaccines to children and teens under 19 years of age, who
are either uninsured, Medicaid-eligible, American Indian, or
Alaska Native. There are over 45,000 sites that provide VFC
vaccines, including hospitals, private clinics, and public
clinics. The VFC Program also allows children and teens to
get VFC vaccines through Federally Qualified Health Centers
or Rural Health Centers, if their private health insurance
does not cover the vaccine.
Some states also provide free or low-cost vaccines at
public health department clinics to people without health
insurance coverage for vaccines.
What vaccinated girls need to know
The HPV vaccine is given through a series of three shots
over a 6-month period. The second and third doses should be
given 2 and 6 months (respectively) after the first dose.
Will girls/women who have been vaccinated still
need cervical cancer screening?
Yes. There are three reasons why women will still need
regular cervical cancer screening. First, the vaccine will
NOT protect against all types of HPV that cause cervical
cancer, so vaccinated women will still be at risk for some
cancers. Second, some women may not get all required doses
of the vaccine (or they may not get them at the right
times), so they may not get the vaccine’s full benefits.
Third, women may not get the full benefit of the vaccine if
they receive it after they’ve already acquired one of the
four HPV types.
Should girls/women be screened before getting
No. Girls/women do not need to get an HPV test or Pap test
to find out if they should get the vaccine. An HPV test or a
Pap test can tell that a woman may have HPV, but these tests
cannot tell the specific HPV type(s) that a woman has. Even
girls/women with one HPV type could get protection from the
other vaccine HPV types they have not yet acquired.
Will girls be required to get vaccinated before they
There are no federal laws that require children or
adolescents to get vaccinated. All school and daycare entry
laws are state laws—so they vary from state to state. To
find out what vaccines are needed for children or teens to
enter school or daycare in your state, check with your state
health department or board of education.
The basics of Genital HPV and cancer
Genital HPV is a common virus that is passed on through
genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex.
About 40 types of HPV can infect the genital areas of men
and women. While most HPV types cause no symptoms and go
away on their own, some types can cause cervical cancer in
women. These types also have been linked to other less
common genital cancers— including cancers of the anus,
vagina, and vulva (area around the opening of the vagina).
Other types of HPV can cause warts in the genital areas of
men and women, called genital warts.
How is HPV related to cervical cancer?
Some types of HPV can infect a woman’s cervix (lower part of
the womb) and cause the cells to change. Most of the time,
HPV goes away on its own. When HPV is gone, the cervix cells
go back to normal. But sometimes, HPV does not go away.
Instead, it lingers (persists) and continues to change the
cells on a woman’s cervix. These cell changes (or “precancers”)
can lead to cancer over time, if they are not treated.
How common is HPV?
At least 50% of sexually active people will get HPV at some
time in their lives. Every year in the United States (U.S.),
about 6.2 million people get HPV. HPV is most common in
young women and men who are in their late teens and early
Anyone who has ever had genital contact with another
person can get HPV. Both men and women can get it – and pass
it on to their sex partners- without even realizing it.
How common is cervical cancer in the U.S.? How
many women die from it?
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2006, over
9,700 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3,700
women will die from this cancer in the U.S.
How common are Genital Warts?
About 1% of sexually active adults in the U.S. (about 1
million people) have visible genital warts at any point in
Is HPV the same thing as HIV or Herpes?
HPV is NOT the same as HIV or Herpes (Herpes simplex virus
or HSV). While these are all viruses that can be sexually
transmitted— HIV and HSV do not cause the same symptoms or
health problems as HPV.
Can HPV and its associated diseases be treated?
There is no treatment for HPV. But there are
treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause, such
as genital warts, cervical cell changes, and cancers of the
cervix, vulva, vagina and anus.
Other ways to prevent HPV and cancer
Another HPV vaccine is in the final stages of clinical
testing, but it is not yet licensed. This vaccine would
protect against the two types of HPV that cause most (70%)
Are there other ways to prevent cervical cancer?
Regular Pap tests and follow-up can prevent most, but not
all, cases of cervical cancer. Pap tests can detect cell
changes in the cervix before they turn into cancer.
Pap tests can also detect most, but not all, cervical
cancers at an early, curable stage. Most women diagnosed
with cervical cancer in the U.S. have either never had a Pap
test, or have not had a Pap test in the last 5 years.
There is also an HPV DNA test available for use with the
Pap test, as part of cervical cancer screening. This test is
used for women over 30 or for women who get an unclear
(borderline) Pap test result. While this test can tell if a
woman has HPV on her cervix, it cannot tell which
types of HPV she has.
Are there other ways to prevent HPV?
The only sure way to prevent HPV is to abstain from all
sexual activity. Sexually active adults can reduce their
risk by being in a mutually faithful relationship with
someone who has had no other or few sex partners, or by
limiting their number of sex partners. But even persons with
only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV, if their partner
has had previous partners.
It is not known how much protection condoms provide
against HPV, since areas that are not covered by a condom
can be exposed to the virus.