HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, so anyone who has ever been sexually active is at risk. HPV is a virus passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin sexual contact, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Even a person who has only had one partner is at risk.
Around 79 million people in the U.S. have already gotten HPV and about 14 million new infections occur every year. In addition, each year in the United States there are approximately 17,500 women and 9,300 men affected by HPV-related cancers. HPV leads to approximately 11,000 cases of cervical cancer per year killing more than 4,000 women.
The HPV vaccine is most effective when the complete 3-shot series is given before any sexual activity begins, which is one reason the vaccine is recommended for boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12. Also, the HPV vaccine produces the highest immune response at this age. Regardless of the when your child becomes sexually active, vaccination is important because the number of people who get HPV infections is staggering:
No. Although some parents are concerned that vaccinating a child for a sexually-transmitted disease is like giving them permission to have sex, you can be reassured that research shows that HPV vaccination has had no notable difference in the markers of sexual activity, which includes pregnancies, counseling on contraceptives, and testing and diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections. In other words, the vaccine does not appear to be changing sexual behaviors, only protecting those when they eventually engage in them.
Even if someone has already had sex, they should still get HPV vaccine. While HPV infection usually happens soon after someone has sex for the first time, a person might not be exposed to any or all of the HPV types that are in the vaccine. Males and females in the age groups recommended for vaccination are likely to get at least some protection from the vaccine.
All three available HPV vaccines cover the most popular HPV strains (16 and 18). These two strains are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts.
It’s understandable that parents may be hesitant. There is a lot of inaccurate information about the safety of the HPV vaccine circulating online. However, you can be confident that HPV vaccines are safe and effective. Each of the three available HPV vaccines—Gardasil® 9, Gardasil®, and Cervarix®—went through years of extensive safety testing before they were licensed by the FDA. Gardasil® 9 was studied in clinical trials with more than 15,000 females and males; Gardasil® was studied in clinical trials with more than 29,000 females and males, and Cervarix® was studied in trials with more than 30,000 females. As with all approved vaccines, the CDC and the FDA closely monitor the safety of HPV vaccines after they are licensed. Any problems detected with these vaccines are reported to health officials, healthcare providers, and the public. No serious side effects have ever been associated with HPV vaccines.
HPV vaccines are very effective. Clinical trials showed the vaccines provided close to 100% protection against precancers and, for Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®, genital warts. Since the vaccine was first recommended in 2006, there has been a 56% reduction in vaccine type HPV infections among teen girls in the U.S., even with very low HPV vaccination rates. Research has also shown that fewer teens are getting genital warts.
According to data from clinical trials and ongoing research, protection produced by HPV vaccine lasts at least 8-10 years. There is no evidence to suggest that HPV vaccine loses the ability to provide protection over time.