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Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually Transmitted Diseases  >  Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection  >  HPV Vaccine Information For Young Women

HPV Vaccine Information For Young Women

Photos of women.
Photos of young women.

There is now a vaccine that prevents the types of genital human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. The vaccine, Gardasil®, is given in three shots over six-months. The vaccine is routinely recommended for 11 and 12 year old girls. It is also recommended for girls and women age 13 through 26 who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.

Why the HPV vaccine is important

Genital HPV is a common virus that is passed on through genital contact, most often during sex. Most sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will never even know it. It is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s.

There are about 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas of men and women. Most HPV types cause no symptoms and go away on their own. But some types can cause cervical cancer in women and other less common genital cancers— like 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. Genital warts are not a life-threatening disease. But they can cause emotional stress and their treatment can be very uncomfortable.

Every year, about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and almost 4,000 women die from this disease in the U.S.

About 1% of sexually active adults in the U.S. (or 1 million people) have visible genital warts at any point in time.

Who should get the HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine is recommended for 11 and 12 year-old girls.1 It is also recommended for girls and women age 13 through 26 years of age who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.

1 Note: The vaccine can also be given to girls 9 or 10 years of age.

Will sexually active females benefit from the vaccine?

Ideally females should get the vaccine before they become sexually active, when they may be exposed to HPV. Females who are sexually active may also benefit from the vaccine, but they may get less benefit from it. This is because they may have already gotten an HPV type targeted by the vaccine. Few sexually active young women are infected with all HPV types covered by the vaccine so they would still get protection from those types they have not yet gotten. Currently, there is no test available to tell if a girl/woman has had HPV in the past, or which types.

Can 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 does not cause health problems for pregnant women or their developing child. But more research is still needed. For now, pregnant women should wait until their pregnancy is over before getting the vaccine. If a woman finds out she is pregnant after she has started getting the vaccine series, she should wait until her pregnancy is over before finishing the three-dose series.

Should girls/women be screened for cervical cancer before getting vaccinated?

No. Girls/women do not need to get an HPV test or Pap test to find out if they should get the vaccine. Neither of these tests can tell the specific HPV type(s) that a woman has (or has had in the past), so there’s no way to know if she has already had the HPV types covered by the vaccine.

Why is the HPV vaccine only recommended for girls/women through age 26?

The vaccine has been widely tested in girls/women 9 through 26 years of age. New research is being done on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy in women older than 26 years of age. The FDA will consider licensing the vaccine for these women when there is enough research to show that it is safe and effective for them.

What about vaccinating boys and men?

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.

Effectiveness of the HPV Vaccine

This vaccine targets the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer and genital warts. The vaccine is highly effective in preventing those types of HPV and related diseases in young women.

The vaccine is less effective in preventing HPV-related disease in young women who have already been exposed to one or more HPV types. That is because the vaccine does not treat existing HPV infections or the diseases they may cause. It can only prevent HPV before a person gets it.

How long does vaccine protection last? Will a booster shot be needed?

Research suggests that vaccine protection will last a long time. More research is being done to find out if women will need a booster vaccine many years after getting vaccinated to boost protection.

What does the vaccine not protect against?

The vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV— so it will not prevent all cases of cervical cancer. 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 other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). So it will still be important for sexually active persons to lower their risk for 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 HPV vaccine

This vaccine has been licensed by the FDA and approved by CDC as safe and effective. It was studied in thousands of females (ages 9 through 26 years) around the world and its safety continues to be monitored by CDC and the FDA. Studies have found no serious side effects. The most common side effect is soreness in the arm (where the shot is given). There have recently been some reports of fainting in teens after they got the vaccine. For this reason, it is recommended that patients wait in their doctor’s office for 15 minutes after getting the vaccine.

Cost and Paying for the HPV vaccine

The retail price of the vaccine is about $125 per dose ($375 for full series).

Is the HPV vaccine covered by insurance plans?

While some insurance companies may cover the vaccine, others may not. Most large insurance plans usually cover the costs of recommended vaccines.

How can I get help paying for the vaccine?

Children age 18 and younger may be eligible to get vaccines, including the HPV vaccine, for free through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program if they are: Medicaid eligible; uninsured; or American Indian or Alaska Native. Doctors may charge a small fee to give each shot. However VFC vaccines cannot be denied to an eligible child if the family cannot afford the fee.

Some states also provide free or low-cost vaccines at public health department clinics to people without health insurance coverage for vaccines. Contact your State Health Department to see if your state has such a program.

What vaccinated girls/women need to know

Women will still need regular cervical cancer screening (Pap tests) because the vaccine will NOT protect against all HPV types that cause cervical cancer. Also, women who got the vaccine after becoming sexually active may not get the full benefit of the vaccine if they had already acquired HPV.

Other ways to prevent HPV and Cervical Cancer

Another HPV vaccine is now being considered for licensure by the FDA. This vaccine would protect against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers, but it would not protect against genital warts.

Are there other ways to prevent cervical cancer?

Regular cervical cancer screening and follow-up can prevent most cases of cervical cancer. The Pap test 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, treatable 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. The HPV test can tell if a woman has HPV on her cervix. This test can be used with the Pap test to help your doctor determine next steps in cervical cancer screening.

Are there other ways to prevent HPV?

The only sure way to prevent HPV is to abstain from all sexual activity. For those who are sexually active, condoms may lower the chances of getting HPV, if used all the time and the right way. Condoms may also lower the risk of developing HPV-related diseases (genital warts and cervical cancer). But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom—so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.

Sexually active adults can also lower their risk of HPV by being in a mutually faithful relationship with someone who has had no or few sex partners, or by limiting their number of sex partners. The fewer partners a person has had – the less likely he or she is to have HPV. But even persons with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV, if their partner has had previous partners.


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Page last modified: June 26, 2008
Page last reviewed: June 26, 2008

Content Source: Division of STD Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention