What Is the HPV Vaccine?


Our family doctor has recommended that my teen get the HPV vaccine. What does the HPV vaccine protect you from, and when should my teen get the shot?


The human papilloma virus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. It’s so prevalent that, according to the CDC, “nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.” Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems and most HPV infections (9 out of 10) will go away on their own. However, some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer in women and genital warts in women and men. There are more than 150 types of HPV, but two types (HPV-16 and HPV-18) are thought to cause almost two-thirds of all cervical cancer cases, and close to half of all vaginal, vulvar, and penile cancers.

The FDA has approved two HPV vaccines — Cervarix and Gardasil — which protect against the most common types of HPV, thereby reducing the risk of cervical and other cancers that are associated with high-risk strains of HPV. The vaccines are approved for both girls and boys ages 9 to 26. Cervarix protects against HPV types 16 and 18, the highest-risk strains of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. Like Cervarix, Gardasil protects against HPV types 16 and 18, but also protects against types 6 and 11, which provides additional protection against vaginal and vulvar cancers, genital warts, and anal cancer.

According to the CDC, for the greatest protection against cancers caused by HPV, all girls and boys who are 11 or 12 years old should get the recommended series of HPV vaccine (two shots given at least six months apart). The vaccine is recommended for young women through age 26 and young men through age 21, so if your teen didn’t get vaccinated when they were younger, they should get the HPV vaccine now.

To learn more about the HPV vaccine, check out our Fact Sheet!

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