Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common virus that can lead to six types of cancer in both men and women later in life. HPV infections are so common that nearly every woman and man in the country will get HPV at some point in their lives. Nearly 80 million people in the United States currently have HPV and another 14 million become infected annually. HPV is estimated to cause 36,000 cases of cancer in men and women every year.
HPV spreads through intimate skin-to-skin contact. You can contract HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who carries the virus. Most people do not know they have HPV and there are almost no visible or noticeable symptoms. The best way to prevent contracting HPV is to be vaccinated before you are sexually active. The CDC recommends that all preteens (ages 11-12) receive the HPV vaccine to reduce the possibility of cancer later in life.
What Is the HPV Vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is a multiple shot vaccine recommended for all children around the age of 11 or 12. It is commonly referred to by the brand name Gardasil 9. The vaccine protects against multiple strains of HPV, including:
The HPV vaccine is administered in a series of shots. How many shots you receive depends on which age group you fall under. For people ages 9-14, the vaccine is a set of two shots. The second shot should be administered six months after the first one.
For people ages 15-45, the vaccine is given in three separate shots. The second shot should be given two months after the first, and the third four months after the second shot. So it takes about six months to get all three shots and be fully vaccinated.
Please note that the vaccine is drastically less effective if you do not complete all the recommended shots.
Does the HPV Vaccine Have any Side Effects?
The most common side effect from the HPV vaccine is slight pain and redness at the site of the shot.
While there are no notable negative side effects to taking the HPV vaccine, it is a controversial subject among certain groups. Because the HPV vaccine prevents a sexually transmitted infection, some people believe that it is inappropriate for children. But for the vaccine to be truly effective, it’s important that it is given long before you become sexually active.
There are many consensual and non-consensual situations that can lead to intercourse–the HPV vaccine is meant to protect people from the life-threatening cancers that can develop as a result. Studies have proven that populations who receive the HPV vaccine do not start having sex any younger or more frequently than non-vaccinated populations.
Who Should Get the HPV Vaccine?
The CDC recommends that everyone get the HPV vaccine to prevent the likelihood of developing genital warts and/or cancer. You can get the HPV vaccine at any time between the ages of nine and 45. However, it is recommended that it be administered around age 11 or 12 to fully protect people from HPV before they become sexually active.
Regardless of your age, you should discuss whether or not you should take the HPV vaccine with your OBGN or primary care physician.
Who Should Not Get the HPV Vaccine?
You should consult with your doctor and disclose any and all allergic reactions. There are a few cases in which it may be considered unwise or unsafe to receive the HPV vaccine, including:
Generally speaking, the vaccine is safe for most people. But it’s always best to discuss it thoroughly with your gynecologist or physician beforehand.
Can I Treat an HPV Infection with the HPV Vaccine?
Unfortunately, if you already have an HPV infection, the HPV vaccine cannot treat it. It can only prevent you from catching HPV in the first place. However, it’s still a good idea to go ahead and get the HPV vaccine even if you’ve already been diagnosed with HPV because there are so many strains. While the vaccine cannot protect you from the strain you already have, it can prevent you from contracting another strain.
If you think you may have an HPV infection, talk to your gynecologist or doctor about your testing and treatment options.
I Got the HPV Vaccine – Do I Still Need a Pap Smear?
Yes! Pap smears are an important diagnostic tool in screening for and preventing cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine does not protect against every single HPV strain that can cause cancer – just the most common ones. So you should still get your gynecologist recommended Pap smears to check for abnormal cell changes on your cervix.
How Much Does the HPV Vaccine Cost?
Most insurance companies cover the costs of HPV vaccinations as preventative care. Without insurance, each dose of the vaccine is about $250. But don’t panic if you don’t have insurance–there are many programs that can help you get the vaccine for free or for a nominal fee!
Ask your gynecologist or doctor about your options. Without insurance, you can also try visiting a free clinic, a local Planned Parenthood, or another charitable organization that provides medical services. You should also check and see if your local Health Department offers free or reduced-cost HPV vaccines.
If you have any questions about HPV or the HPV vaccine, contact The Woman’s Clinic. We would be happy to set up an appointment with one of our friendly, compassionate gynecologists. We are ready to answer any and all of your questions in a safe, judgment-free environment.