How the HPV Vaccine Protects Your Health

By: Renown Wellness Team

July 01, 2024

Teen girl points at Band-Aid where she received vaccine.

As the back-to-school season approaches, ensuring your child is ready for a successful academic year goes beyond school supplies and new clothes. It's also the perfect time to prioritize their health by ensuring they're up-to-date on essential vaccinations, including the HPV vaccine. We talked to Renown Pediatrician Dr. Kristin Wilson, to learn more about HPV and the importance of getting your child fully vaccinated.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted disease. It can lead to the risk of several cancer diagnoses, with about 13 million Americans, including teens, becoming infected each year. Fortunately, a vaccine can prevent more than 90% of HPV cancers when given at the recommended ages. Talking about sexually transmitted infections can be uncomfortable, but learning how HPV is spread is important for prevention. Here's what you need to know about HPV:

  • Transmission: HPV is spread via skin-to-skin contact.
  • Types of HPV:
    • Low/Medium-risk HPVs: Can cause warts and cervical dysplasia (abnormal cells on the cervix).
    • High-risk HPVs: Can cause various cancers.
  • HPV-related Cancers:
    • Cervical cancer
    • Anal cancer
    • Vaginal cancer
    • Vulvar cancer
    • Penile cancer
    • Oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancer
  • Statistics:
    • Men are four times more likely than women to suffer from HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer.
    • HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active people will be exposed at some point in their lifetime.
    • Around half of HPV infections are of the high-risk variety.

Benefits of the HPV vaccine  

Immunizations are safe and effective and have successfully reduced the transmission of many deadly diseases. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states the HPV vaccine protects against infections that can lead to HPV related cancers and abnormal cells that can lead to cancer (precancers), as well as genital warts.  

The recommended HPV vaccine schedule  

Ages 9 to 12: The American Cancer Society recommends that girls and boys between these ages receive the HPV vaccine for maximum effectiveness, with two doses administered at least six months apart. Dr. Slots explains, "You might be asking why your child needs to get the HPV vaccine at this young age when they are not sexually active. Research shows that people have a better immune response to the vaccine when younger than in their late teens and early 20s."

Ages 13 to 26: For teens and young adults who have not yet been vaccinated, the HPV vaccine remains highly effective in preventing cancers and genital warts.

  • 2-dose schedule for people who get their first dose before their 15th birthday. 
  • 3-dose schedule for people who get their first dose on or after their 15th birthday.  

“By following the recommended HPV vaccine schedule and getting your child the correct number of doses, this will ensure they have adequate protection against HPV associated diseases including cancer,” says Dr. Slots.  

Safety, Side Effects and Protection

HPV vaccines are continually monitored for their safety and effectiveness. Since the release of the vaccination in 2006, healthcare providers have delivered millions of doses across the globe, and no serious safety concerns have been found. All vaccines used in the U.S. are required to go through extensive safety testing before they are released to use.   

The most common reaction is a sore arm at the injection site, along with swelling and redness. Other side effects include dizziness, fainting, nausea, and headache. Fainting is a common reaction to adolescent vaccines. To reduce the risk of injury, an adolescent should sit or lie down for 15 minutes after administering the vaccine.   

HPV vaccines are highly effective in producing a high immune response. According to multiple research studies, protection from the HPV vaccine is long-lasting and lasts through the most critical exposure time. Therefore, at this time, a booster is not recommended.  

Are there programs for free or reduced-cost HPV vaccination?  

Yes. The Affordable Care Act requires all new private insurance plans to cover HPV vaccines if the patient is within the recommended age group of 9-26 years of age and an in-network provider administers the vaccine. Public insurance plans, such as Medicaid, will also cover the HPV vaccine within the recommended age group. We recommend calling your insurance company to confirm the vaccine is covered.  

In some circumstances, the vaccine may not be covered under insurance. In that case, a child may be covered through Vaccines for Children, a program that pays for vaccines for children younger than age 19 who are Medicaid eligible, uninsured or underinsured, or American Indian or Alaskan Native throughout the state of Nevada.