//HPV Vaccine Questions and Answers

HPV Vaccine Questions and Answers

In June 2006, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend the first vaccine developed to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases in females caused by certain types of genital human papillomavirus (HPV). The vaccine, Gardasil®, protects against four HPV types, which together cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed this vaccine for use in females and males, ages 9 to 26 years old. The HPV vaccine is given through a series of three shots over a six month period. The second and third doses should be given two and six months (respectively) after the first dose.

Effectiveness of the HPV Vaccine

Studies have found the vaccine to be almost 100 percent effective in preventing diseases caused by the four HPV types covered by the vaccine– including pre-cancers of the cervix, penis, anus, vulva and vagina, and genital warts. The vaccine has mainly been studied in young people who had not been exposed to any of the four HPV types in the vaccine.

This vaccine does not treat existing HPV infections, genital warts, pre-cancers or cancers.

Safety of the HPV Vaccine

The FDA has licensed the HPV vaccine as safe and effective. The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site. The CDC, working with the FDA, will continue to monitor the safety of the vaccine after it is in general use.

Does the Southern Nevada Health District offer the HPV vaccine?2018-08-20T13:34:51-07:00

Yes. Visit the Immunizations webpage for clinic locations and hours.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?2018-08-20T13:35:44-07:00

The HPV vaccine is recommended for 11 to 12 year-olds, and can be given to people as young as nine. The vaccine is also recommended for 13 – 26 year olds 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, and are now being considered by CDC.

Why is the HPV vaccine recommended at ages 11 or 12 years?2018-08-20T13:36:39-07:00

Ideally, people should get the vaccine before they are sexually active. This is because the vaccine is most effective in people who have not yet acquired any of the four HPV types covered by the vaccine. People who have not been infected with any of those four HPV types will get the full benefits of the vaccine.

Will sexually active people benefit from the vaccine?2018-08-20T13:37:28-07:00

People 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 people 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 someone has had any or all of these four HPV types.

Why is the HPV vaccine only recommended for people ages 9 to 26?2018-08-20T13:38:09-07:00

The vaccine has been widely tested in people 9 to 26 years old. But research on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy has only recently begun with people older than 26 years. The FDA will consider licensing the vaccine for these people once research shows that it is safe and effective for them.

Should pregnant women get the vaccine?2018-08-20T13:39:00-07:00

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 series.

How long does vaccine protection last? Will a booster shot be needed?2018-08-20T13:41:08-07:00

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 they 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 against?2018-08-20T13:42:36-07:00

Because the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV, it will not prevent all cases of cervical, penile, and anal cancer or genital warts. About 30 percent of cervical cancers will not be prevented by the vaccine, so it will be important for women to continue getting regular Pap tests.

Also, the vaccine does not prevent about 10 percent 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 people be protected against HPV and related diseases, even if they don’t get all three doses?2018-08-20T13:43:18-07:00

No studies have shown whether or not one or two doses protect as well as getting three doses, so it’s very important to get all three doses.

Does this vaccine contain thimerosal or mercury?2018-08-20T13:44:33-07:00

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.

Will the HPV vaccine be covered by insurance plans?2018-08-20T13:45:11-07:00

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?2018-08-20T13:46:31-07:00

The Southern Nevada Health District participates in the Vaccines for Children (VFC) federal health program which covers the HPV vaccine. The VFC program provides free vaccines to children and teens under 19 years old, who are uninsured, Medicaid-eligible, American Indian, Alaska Native.

Will females who have been vaccinated still need cervical cancer screening?2018-08-20T13:48:15-07:00

Yes. There are three reasons why women will still need regular cervical cancer screening.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 people be screened before getting vaccinated?2018-08-20T13:49:03-07:00

No. People 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 person may have HPV, but these tests cannot tell the specific HPV type(s). Even people with one HPV type could get protection from the other vaccine HPV types they have not yet acquired.

Where can I get more information?2018-08-20T13:50:05-07:00

Visit the HPV webpage for more information on HPV and cervical cancer. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information on HPV Vaccine.


American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Cervical Cancer. What are the Key Statistics about Cervical Cancer? Last updated October 31, 2005.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA News: FDA Licenses New Vaccine for Prevention of Cervical Cancer and Other Diseases in Females Caused by Human Papillomavirus.

Harper DM, Franco EL, Wheeler C, et al; HPV Vaccine Study Group. Sustained efficacy up to 4.5 years of a bivalent L1 virus-like particle vaccine against human papillomavirus types 16 and 18: follow-up from a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2006; 367(9518): 1247-1255.

Ho GY, Bierman R, Beardsley L, et al. Natural history of cervicovaginal papillomavirus infection as measured by repeated DNA testing in adolescent and young women. N Engl J Med. 1998; 338(7):423-428.

Koutsky LA. Epidemiology of genital human papillomavirus infection. Am J Med. 1997; 102(5A):3-8.

Mao C, Koutsky LA, Ault KA, et al. Efficacy of human papillomavirus-16 vaccine to prevent cervical intraepithelial neoplasia: a randomized controlled trial. Obstet Gynecol. 2006; 107(1):18-27.

National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH Consensus Statement: Cervical Cancer. 1996; 14:1-38.

Villa LL, Costa RLR, Petta CA, et al. Prophylactic quadrivalent human papillomavirus (types 6, 11, 16, and 18) L1 virus-like particle vaccine in young women: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled multicentre phase II efficacy trial. The Lancet Oncology, 2005; 6(5): 271-278.

Weinstock H, Berman S, Cates W, Jr. Sexually transmitted diseases among American youth: incidence and prevalence estimates, 2000. Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2004; 36(1):6-10.

This information was adapted from the CDC HPV Vaccine Questions and Answers webpage.

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Updated on: April 20, 2020

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