Questions and Answers about the HPV vaccine

What’s HPV?

HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. Strains of this virus can cause genital warts and cancer in both boys and girls. At Pediatric Physicians, we use a brand of HPV vaccine called “Gardasil” which prevents infections caused by 4 strains of this virus.

Who should get the HPV vaccine? When?

The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine series for all boys and girls, starting with the first dose at age 11-12. For the vaccine to be effective, three doses have to be received. The vaccine works best if all three doses are given before any potential exposure to the virus.

After the first dose, the second dose can be given two months later. After the second dose, the third dose is given four months later. If too long an interval occurs between doses, that’s OK—just start with the next dose. Doses do not have to be repeated.

How is HPV transmitted?

People usually catch HPV through sexual activity. Intercourse is not required. Occasionally, a newborn can catch HPV during birth, which can lead to very severe breathing problems.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in theUnited States. By age 30, at least 40% of adults have caught this virus.

Why start vaccinating at 11 or 12 years of age?

The CDC and other health authorities recommend starting the HPV series at age 11-12. All three doses should be received prior to exposure, and by starting early you’re more likely to ensure that your children are protected when they need it. Also, giving this vaccine at age 11-12 gives a more robust, stronger, and long-lasting immune reaction than administering it to older teenagers.

How will this vaccine help my child?

HPV vaccination will help prevent cervical cancer in girls (12,000 cases per year in the USA), as well as cancers of the penis, anus, and throat in boys (probably about 3,000 cases/year.) The more young people are vaccinated, the more this vaccine can help prevent transmission of this virus to everyone.

Though most people who catch HPV clear the virus and have no symptoms, we cannot predict who will develop a persistent infection that can lead to cancer.

What side effects should I expect?

HPV vaccination is safe, and serious side effects are very, very rare. The only common side effects are pain at the injection site, and, more rarely, fainting after the vaccine is given.

Where should I look for more information?

Visit the CDC’s HPV site for detailed information about HPV and the HPV vaccine.