Gardasil® is recommended for all girls and women who are between ages nine and 26 years. Cervarix® is recommended for girls and women of any age. With both vaccines, you will have the greatest protection from HPV if you are vaccinated BEFORE becoming sexually active. The vaccine does not help to get rid of HPV infection after it has occurred. However, if you are less than 26 years old and you have been sexually active, had genital warts, a positive HPV test, or an abnormal Pap smear, you may still obtain some benefit from the HPV vaccine. Gardasil® is not recommended for women over 26 years old because most women have already been exposed to the HPV virus by this age. Cervarix® is available to girls and women of any age.
HPV Vaccine Timing and Dose
Gardasil® is given by injection and requires three doses; the first injection is followed by a second and third dose two and six months later, respectively.
Cervarix® is also given by injection and requires three doses, although the schedule is slightly different than with Gardasil®; the first injection is followed by a second and third dose one and six months later, respectively.
It is not clear if the vaccine is effective if fewer than three doses are given. If you miss a dose, talk to your provider about how many more doses you need.
How long am I protected?
Clinical trials show that HPV vaccines provide protection for at least five years.
Do I still need a Pap smear?
You do not need to have a pelvic exam or test for cervical cancer (e.g., Pap smear) before you have the HPV vaccine. Cervical cancer screening (Pap smear) is recommended, starting by age 21 or within three years of having sex for the first time. Getting the HPV vaccine does not mean that you can skip cervical cancer screening in the future. Other types of HPV, which are not prevented by the vaccine, can also cause cervical cancer.
Side Effects and Precautions
The HPV vaccine may cause mild redness, tenderness, or swelling near the injection site. There is no thimerosal (a mercury derivative used as a preservative) in the HPV vaccine. There may be an increased risk of passing out or developing blood clots after an injection of Gardasil®. However, there are no known long-term side effects of the HPV vaccine.
Does the Vaccine Really Work?
Results from vaccine studies show that the HPV vaccine is very effective in preventing HPV infections and cervical pre-cancers caused by HPV. In the United States and elsewhere, the HPV vaccine is now available for boys and young men age 9 to 26 years. The benefits of the vaccine for men are that it might reduce the risk of developing genital warts and spreading HPV to sexual partners.