What is the HPV vaccine?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is a viral vaccine that helps protect against the HPV virus. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that spreads through close skin-to-skin contact during sex with someone that has the virus. The virus is able to be passed to another person even when there are no signs or symptoms present. Most of the time, HPV will go away on its own with no health problems . However, if HPV does not go away it can lead to health problems, such as genital warts, cervical cancer, and head and neck cancer.
What do I look for if I think I have HPV?
Unfortunately, there is no approved HPV test that healthcare providers can use to determine if you have the virus. However, there are HPV tests that screen for cervical cancer that are used for only women 30 years or older. Most infected people do not know they have the infection and will never develop symptoms. If symptoms do show up they are usually spotted by a women’s Pap smear or genital warts, which can be a small bump or a group of small bumps in the genital area. These bumps can appear as small or large, raised or flat, or in the shape of a cauliflower. If you spot suspected genital warts, schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider to be properly diagnosed.
How do I protect myself from HPV?
- Getting the HPV vaccine from your healthcare provider
- See “Who should get vaccinated?” section!
- Get screened for cervical cancer annually
- This is your Pap smear that is often conducted by your OBGYN
- Routine screening for women starts at age 21 and goes to age 65
- Using condoms correctly every time you have sex
- This can lower your chances, however, there are areas that HPV can infect that the condom does not cover
- Talk to your partner(s)!
- If you suspect that you have the HPV virus, getting in contact with any previous or current partners is the right thing to do
Who should get vaccinated?
The CDC currently recommends the HPV vaccination for the following groups of people:
- Both girls and boys at the age of 11 or 12
- It can also given as early as 9 years old
- Anyone up until the age of 26 if they have not received the vaccine already
- The CDC has a vaccination schedule that is easy to follow, you can access it here: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html#note-hpv
** The vaccine is currently not recommended for anyone aged 27 to 45 years old, who have not already received the vaccine. The vaccine is less beneficial when given after the age of 26. However, if you are older than 26 and are interested in getting the vaccine, speak to your healthcare provider.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some side effects after getting the HPV vaccine?
The vaccine can cause pain or swelling in the arm the vaccine was given in. Dizziness or fainting might occur after the vaccine. Nausea and headache might occur as well.
How many doses is the vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is 2 doses. The 1st dose is given at either the age of 11 or 12, and the following 2nd dose is given 6 to 12 months after the 1st dose.
Can I get the HPV vaccine if I am pregnant?
The HPV vaccine is not recommended for women that are pregnant. However, the HPV virus can still develop while you are pregnant. You are able to get your cervical cancer screening done while pregnant!
PharmD Candidate 2025
Philadelphia College of Pharmacy
HPV fact sheet [Internet]. CDC; 2022 April 12. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm
HPV vaccine [Internet]. CDC; 2021 July 23. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine-for-hpv.html
Merck Sharp & Dohme LLC. GARDASIL-9 (human papillomavirus 9-valent vaccine, recombinant injection, suspension) prescribing information. https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=a21f4f4b-b891-4f25-b747-cb9ec7d865d6 (accessed 2022 Nov 30).
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease. Child and adolescent immunization schedule [Internet]. CDC; 2022 Feb 17. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html#note-hpv