The most common HPV vaccine — and the only one being currently administered in the United States — is the 9-valent Gardasil 9vHVPV, which protects against HPV strains 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. HPV 16 and 18 are responsible for most cancers caused by this virus.
It’s normal to have some HPV vaccine concerns, and we’re here to answer all your questions on this topic. Keep reading to learn more about HPV vaccine risks and benefits.
The benefits of the HPV vaccine
Vaccination is the best way to prevent many infectious diseases — including HPV. HPV vaccination is recommended for all boys and girls aged 11 to 12, although it can be given earlier or later than that.
Only two doses of the HPV vaccine are required if the first dose is given before someone’s 15th birthday, and the doses should be administered 6 to 12 months apart. People who get their first HPV vaccine dose after their 15th birthday need three doses to reach maximum protection.
The HPV vaccine isn’t recommended for people over the age of 26 simply because by this age, most people will have been exposed to HPV. However, you can still choose to get vaccinated if you haven’t done so before, after discussing it with your healthcare provider. The HPV vaccine can protect you against different strains of HPV, even if you’ve already been exposed to other strains in the past.
Let’s review the benefits and risks of Gardasil and other HPV vaccines for girls and boys.
HPV vaccine for girls: pros and cons
According to the Mayo Clinic, the biggest Gardasil benefit is that the vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer in women if the vaccine is given before you’re exposed to the virus. HPV vaccination can also prevent rare types of cancer, such as vulvar and vaginal cancers.
Cervical cancer is an important female health issue. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 14,000 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States during 2022, and approximately 4,300 women will die from it. Cervical cancer used to be one of the main causes of death amongst women, and the number of cases has significantly decreased thanks to Pap tests, HPV tests, and HPV vaccination.
According to the CDC, infections with high-risk and low-risk types of HPV have dropped by 88% in teenagers, and by 81% in adult women since the HPV vaccine started being administered in the United States. HPV-related cervical precancerous lesions have also dropped 40% thanks to widespread HPV vaccination.
HPV vaccine for boys: pros and cons
Initially, the HPV vaccine was only recommended for girls and young women because it was thought that males wouldn’t benefit from HPV vaccine prevention. However, we now know that HPV vaccination can also benefit boys and men.
Despite the fact that most men with HPV don’t develop any symptoms of the infection, it can also cause certain types of cancer in some cases. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the number of cases of head and neck cancers caused by HPV in men rose five-fold between 2001 and 2017.
HPV vaccination also protects men from anal and penile cancers. Approximately 4 out of every 10 cases of HPV-related cancers affect men. HPV vaccination in men can also help protect their future sexual partners.
HPv can be very difficult to diagnose in men, since it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms, and there’s no screening test for HPV for males. As a result, HPV complications in men aren’t detected in their early stages, leading to a worse prognosis. But the main benefit of Gardasil and other HPV vaccines is that they can stop the infection from happening in the first place.
Are HPV vaccines safe?
Just like with any other vaccine or medication, it’s possible for some people to develop negative reactions to the HPV vaccine. But the good news is that the large majority of HPV vaccine side effects are extremely mild. According to the CDC, the most common adverse reactions to the HPV vaccine include:
- Pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site
- Fainting or dizziness (especially in teenagers)
- Muscle or joint pain
According to the World Health Organization, more than 270 million doses of HPV vaccines have been administered around the world since 2006. The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has monitored safety data on the HPV vaccine, and it has found that this vaccine is extremely safe. The HPV vaccine can’t cause cancer, and no link has been found between Gardasil and long term effects.
According to the NHS, many trials have studied whether there are any cervical cancer vaccine long term side effects, including:
- Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)
- Postural tachycardia syndrome
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Complex regional pain syndrome
- Premature ovarian failure syndrome
These studies haven’t found an increased risk for any of these diseases after getting the HPV vaccination, compared to individuals who haven’t received the vaccine.
What are the worst side effects of the HPV vaccine?
In very rare cases, people can experience severe allergic reactions to the HPV vaccine. However, this is extremely rare. The vaccine is extremely effective, and there aren’t science-based arguments against the HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is safe for nearly everyone, male or female. However, there are certain contraindications for this vaccine, including:
- A history of life-threatening allergic reactions to the components of the vaccine
- Yeast allergies (Gardasil and Gardasil 9)
- People who are moderately or severely sick should wait until they feel better to get vaccinated
In addition to getting your HPV vaccination, you should also get tested for STDs regularly in order to protect your reproductive health. You can learn more about HPV, STD testing, and much more at STDWatch.com.
HPV vaccine: Who needs it, how it works - mayoclinic.org
Key Statistics for Cervical Cancer - cancer.org
Reasons to Get HPV Vaccine - cdc.gov
Safety of HPV vaccines - who.int
HPV vaccine safety - nhs.uk