The HPV vaccine prevents new infections of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most common cause of cervical cancer. Children can receive the vaccine before puberty, at 11–12 years old.

The main mode of transmission for HPV is sexual activity. For this reason, it is important that people get the vaccine early, before there is any chance they will become sexually active.

This does not just apply to females — 4 in 10 HPV-related cancer cases occur in males. In total, around 36,500 people in the United States receive an HPV-related cancer diagnosis every year.

So, should you get the HPV vaccine? For most young people, the answer is yes, with some exceptions. Read on to learn more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children receive an HPV vaccination around puberty. It is safe for children as young as 9 years old, but the typical age is 11–12 years old.

If a person did not receive the vaccine at this age, they can still gain the maximum benefits if they are not yet sexually active.

Should adults get the HPV vaccine?

The CDC recommends HPV vaccination to all people under 26 years old who have not received HPV vaccination before.

Most sexually active adults have exposure to HPV at some point. However, there are more than 100 types of HPV, and only some of them cause cancer. HPV can also cause genital warts.

Even if people are already sexually active, the vaccine may still prevent the most serious types of HPV. And if people have had HPV before, the vaccine may prevent them from contracting other strains.

Adults ages 27–45 years should discuss the potential benefits of vaccination with a doctor. Vaccination after 45 years of age is not dangerous but may not offer significant benefit.

For most people, yes. Anyone can contract or transmit HPV, and anyone can develop HPV-related cancers. As a result, almost everyone can benefit from protection against this virus.

HPV vaccination prevents more than 90% of cancers that the virus can cause. In addition to cervical cancer, HPV can result in the following types of cancer:

While routine screening tests are available for cervical cancer, no such tests exist for these other forms of cancer. Doctors may not detect these cancers until they cause significant health problems.

Regular checkups are important to monitor for early signs of health conditions.

People should avoid the HPV vaccine for health reasons if:

  • they have a known allergy to the vaccine or any of its components
  • they are pregnant
  • they have an allergy to baker’s yeast, in which case they should avoid the 9-valent HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9)

People who have a moderate or severe temporary illness may want to delay vaccination until they are well.

For some other groups, HPV vaccines may be safe but may not be as effective as they could be. For example, the vaccine cannot treat an active HPV infection or prevent any harmful effects of that particular strain, but it could prevent someone from contracting additional types of HPV.

Yes, the HPV vaccine is safe for almost everyone. No serious negative effects have resulted from the vaccine, except for allergic reactions and fainting, which can happen after any vaccination.

Very rarely, people can have serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) in response to vaccines. For HPV vaccines, the rate of anaphylaxis is 3 cases per 1 million doses.

Otherwise, the side effects are mild and temporary. The most commonly reported effects are:

  • pain or swelling at the injection site
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • headache

Each type of HPV vaccine that has been available in the United States has undergone strict safety testing before becoming publicly available. Scientists tested the vaccine Gardasil 9 in 15,000 people to determine its safety. There is no evidence that it causes any long-term harm.

HPV vaccine in Japan

In 2013, Japan temporarily suspended its HPV vaccination program in response to media reports of side effects. This led people to become scared of getting the vaccine. Some people also reinforced social stigma around getting the vaccine by alleging that only people who had many sexual partners needed to worry about getting HPV.

The fear and misinformation around HPV vaccines resulted in a dramatic decline in HPV vaccination coverage, from 70% to less than 1%, which lasted for 8 years.

While Japan reinstated the vaccination program in 2021, the uptake remains low. As a result, rates of cervical cancer have increased significantly.

There is no evidence that HPV vaccines cause serious side effects or that they encourage people to have many sexual partners.

The HPV vaccine works by stimulating the body’s natural immune response to HPV. It does this via virus-like particles (VLPs), which make the body think it has HPV when it does not.

VLPs consist of material from the surface of HPV, but they are not infectious and cannot replicate. Still, the immune system interprets their presence similarly to the presence of the real virus and begins to make antibodies.

If a person encounters HPV later on, their immune system will already be capable of fighting the virus, preventing infection.

All forms of the vaccine have a high efficacy of close to 100% at preventing strains of HPV that cause persistent infection.

In terms of health, the HPV shot has few downsides for most people. It offers safe and effective protection against viruses that can potentially cause cancer, and it usually has only minor side effects.

However, since the launch of HPV vaccination in the United States, distrust has grown, despite the consistent research showing its benefits. This may be due to inaccurate information that parents and caregivers are finding online.

Additionally, some people have concerns that HPV vaccination encourages potentially harmful sexual behavior. There is also no evidence to support this claim.

Most people, especially young people, should get the HPV vaccination. The benefits of the shot vastly outweigh the few risks. The HPV vaccine can prevent up to 90% of cervical cancers and may also prevent cancers of the mouth and throat, anus, vulva, and penis.

The side effects of the HPV vaccine are minor. The only known risk that can become serious is anaphylaxis, which is very rare.

A person who is considering the HPV vaccine for themselves or their child should discuss it with a trusted healthcare professional.