As a parent, HPV is probably something you may not want to think or worry about. But HPV can be serious. It's estimated that about 20 million people (both men and women) are infected with HPV, and the virus is most common in those who are in their late teens and early twenties.51,61
There are actually different types of HPV—certain types can cause genital warts and others can cause cancer, including cervical cancer. Vaccines can protect teens and young adults against some of the most common types of HPV.61
What's also concerning is that most people who become infected with HPV do not show symptoms, so an infected person may not know he or she has the virus or is spreading it to a partner.61
If someone gets HPV, there is no way of knowing if he or she will go on to develop cancer or other complications. This is because not all types of HPV cause cancer. In fact, the types of HPV that cause genital warts are not the same as the types that cause cancer.61
The 3 HPV vaccines that are available help protect against HPV types that cause most cervical cancer, and 2 of them also protect against HPV types that cause most genital warts.61
The HPV vaccine is available for girls, boys, young women and young men. To learn more about when they should receive HPV vaccine, visit the administration page.
As a parent, you may be concerned about giving your child the HPV vaccine. But the HPV vaccine is safe and it's important: at least 50% of sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives—and many won't even know it.118
Studies show that HPV vaccines are safe.117 Like all vaccines on the market, the FDA has licensed the HPV vaccine as safe and effective, and they continue to carefully monitor the safety of HPV vaccines.118 They were tested on tens of thousands of people in the United States and around the world, and no serious safety concerns were identified.119
Another concern that some parents may have is whether their child can actually get HPV or cervical cancer from the HPV vaccine. But this is impossible: you can't get HPV or cervical cancer from the HPV vaccine, because the vaccine does not contain any live viruses.117
Specific side effects vary depending on the brand of HPV vaccine. Common, mild side effects could include pain where the shot was injected into the arm, fever, headache, and nausea.118 Adolescents also have a higher incidence of fainting episodes from all vaccines, including HPV.120 Be sure to ask your health care provider about the side effects of the specific brand of HPV vaccine you are considering.
To be on the safe side, the CDC currently does not recommend the HPV vaccine for pregnant women.118 Risks to an unborn baby are thought to be low, but this question is still being considered through ongoing studies.117 However, if you happen to get vaccinated against HPV while you are pregnant, it is not a reason to end the pregnancy. Just be sure to wait until your pregnancy is completed before receiving any additional doses of HPV vaccine.118
Because adolescents don't typically have routine wellness office visits, it's important to schedule some extra time for checkups. While you're there, you can ask your health care provider about HPV vaccination, as well as any other vaccines your adolescent may need.
The CDC recommends that all girls and boys 11-12 years of age be vaccinated against HPV.51
To get the best protection, preteens should get all 3 doses of an HPV vaccine before their first sexual contact—meaning before they could be exposed to HPV.61 This is important because someone can get infected with HPV the first time they have sexual contact with an infected person, even if sexual contact only happens one time.118
If your teenager or young adult did not receive any or all of the HPV shots when they were younger, talk to a health care professional.
HPV vaccine is given as an injection in the arm. Getting 3 doses of the vaccine provides the best protection against HPV.
After the first dose, a second dose is given 1-2 months later, then the last dose is given 6 months after the first injection. It's important to follow this schedule, but if your adolescent happens to be late for a dose, just have him or her complete the series as soon as he or she can.117
The HPV vaccine is available at at a health care professional's office, including at the gynecologist. It may also be available at local community health clinics.
Most larger insurance companies will cover the cost of HPV vaccination, but call your insurer beforehand to make sure.
If you are uninsured or if the HPV vaccine isn't covered, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program may cover the cost of the vaccine depending on your child's age and circumstances. Visit the CDC Vaccines for Children website for more information.
Only a few vaccines can help prevent cancer, and the HPV vaccine is one of them.118 Here you can read about how the vaccine was discovered, what ingredients are in the vaccine, and how it works.
About 2 decades ago, doctors and scientists at different health institutions started to research the causes of cervical cancer. A number of studies found a link between cervical cancers and HPV infection. They discovered that almost all cervical cancers were caused by HPV infection. The scientists then looked into how they could strengthen the body's defense against HPV. This led to the creation of the first HPV vaccine.121
HPV vaccines work the same way as other vaccines. HPV vaccines contain "virus-like particles" that don't cause HPV infection, but still teach the immune system to create antibody that guard against HPV.119 If, down the road, HPV gets inside the immunized person's body, the immune system will recognize the virus and prevent the person from getting infected.46
Like all vaccines, HPV vaccines are made up of miniscule amounts of different ingredients, all of which are necessary to make sure the vaccine works safely and effectively.67 While many parents worry about some of these ingredients being toxic, the truth is that they could be toxic only if they were used at much higher levels than the amount used in vaccines. Any substance—even water—can be toxic given a large enough dose.9
Some parents also worry about the HPV vaccine containing HPV itself. Like many vaccines, the HPV vaccines do not include the live virus, so you can be assured that your child can't get HPV or cancer from HPV vaccine.117