HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, affecting more than 20 million people each year, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HPV, or genital human papillomavirus, is actually a group of more than 150 related viruses. Certain variants of human papillomavirus are responsible for causing cancer in the cervix, vagina, anus and penis as well as genital warts. HPV has also been linked with warts and cancer in the throat.
What is the HPV Vaccine?
There are two different vaccines available for HPV. The original HPV vaccine is called Gardasil and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006. The other HPV vaccine is called Cervarix and was approved in 2009. Neither vaccine contains any live HPV, so it is not possible for someone to contract HPV from the vaccine.
Either HPV vaccine is effective against the various types of HPV that cause cancers and warts (types 16 and 18). Gardasil is also effective at treating types 6 and 11. In addition to providing protection against genital and anal cancers, and genital warts, the HPV vaccines may also be effective at preventing some cancers of the mouth and throat that are caused by HPV type 16 or a very rare condition in which warts grow in the respiratory tract, caused by HPV types 6 or 11.
How Does it Work?
Both HPV vaccines work by introducing small particles of HPV into the body. These particles are not able to produce an infection because they do not contain the necessary DNA, so people need not worry about contracting HPV from the vaccine. These particles attach to cells and stimulate immune responses that will prevent the complete virus with DNA from infecting cells if a person is exposed to HPV.
Gardasil has been found to be more effective than Cervarix for several reasons:
- Only Gardasil is approved for use in men as well as women.
- It is also the only vaccine found to be effective against the various types of HPV that cause genital warts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However both have been found to be safe and effective by the FDA.
It is important that people are immunized before exposure to HPV, which is why it is approved for use in young people. Ideally, girls should be immunized against HPV before their first sexual contact occurs. However women can still be immunized up to 26 years of age, provided they have not been exposed to HPV.
The HPV vaccine is given in three doses. The second dose is given two months after the first and the third dose is given six months after the first.
It is important to note that the HPV vaccine will not treat an active HPV infection. It will just prevent a live form of the vaccine from affecting cells once all three doses have been received.
- HPV vaccines don't contain DNA, so they can't cause an infection.
- Both types of HPV vaccines have been found to be safe and effective by the FDA.
- HPV vaccine is given in three doses.
- All doses of vaccine should be received before exposure to HPV occurs, preferable before first sexual contact.
- HPV vaccine will not treat an HPV infection.
Who Should Receive An HPV Vaccination?
According to the CDC, every woman between the ages of 9-to-26 should get the HPV vaccine. However, the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, is also approved for use in men ages 9-to-26. It is not currently on the vaccine list from the CDC for boys and men since the CDC believes that the best way to prevent the spread of HPV is by immunizing girls. But if parents wish for it, their boys can safely be immunized against genital and anal cancers as well as genital warts.
Is it Safe?
According to the FDA and the CDC, the HPV vaccines are completely safe. The instances of severe reaction are very low. Common mild reactions include:
- Pain at the injection site
- Redness or swelling at the injection site
- Fever (up to 102⁰F)
- Itching at the injection site
Pregnant women considering vaccination should not get the HPV vaccine until after their baby is born. There is no evidence that the HPV harms an unborn baby, but testing would be unethical. If a woman does get any of the three vaccines when she is pregnant, she should report it to the HPV vaccine pregnancy registry. This will help researchers determine how pregnant women and their babies respond to the vaccine.