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The HPV Vaccination: What Have We Learned?

Focused on Health - January 2010

By Adelina Espat

It’s been about four years since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Human Papillomavirus or HPV vaccine. What have we learned about the vaccine during this time?  Let’s take a look at what recent reports say.

Well-informed parents support the vaccine

Every parent has concerns about the safety of a new vaccine. But, what other thoughts do people have about the HPV vaccine? A study published in the August 2009 issue of Annals of Epidemiology shared the opinions of moms who had daughters ages 11 to 17. Of the 52 mothers interviewed, more than half had their daughters vaccinated.

Most moms with vaccinated daughters said they believe the odds of getting HPV are high. They had their daughters vaccinated because they wanted to:

  • Prevent their daughters from getting a future illness, such as cancer
  • Follow their doctor’s advice

Most moms who decided not have their daughters vaccinated said they:

  • Knew little about HPV
  • Had age-related concerns
  • Didn’t believe their daughters were likely to get HPV

Some teenage girls are still not getting the vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that about a quarter of teenage girls got the first vaccine shot in 2007. Even though this number increased a little in 2008, not all teenage girls are getting the vaccine.

Several studies suggest the following as factors that may be preventing parents from vaccinating their daughters:

  • Concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine
  • Little knowledge about HPV and the vaccine
  • No insurance coverage or not being able to get help to pay for the vaccine
  • Their doctor did not recommend having the vaccine

Vaccine still works after four years

A big question is how long the vaccine will stay effective. Researchers know that the vaccine still works in girls and women who got the first available vaccination series. Doctors don’t yet know whether this group will eventually need a booster shot. However, they are still following the girls and women who were a part of the first studies to learn more about the long-term effectiveness of this vaccine.

Reported side effects are similar to those of other vaccines

Most people who got the shot reported the same symptoms you would have if you got any other vaccine. People had one or more of the following side effects at the site of the shot:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Soreness of muscle

Very few people had serious side effects. The CDC reports that about 6% of people who received the shot had serious side effects (i.e., fainting, dizziness, nausea, headache and skin rash).

Boys and men can get the vaccine, too 

In October 2009, the FDA approved the HPV vaccine for use in boys and men ages 9 to 26. They found that the vaccine safely protects males from genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11. Each year, doctors detect genital warts in about two out of every 1,000 men in the United States, says the CDC.

Help to cover vaccine costs does exist

Without insurance, the vaccine can be pricey. The retail price of the vaccine is about $125 per dose ($375 for the full series). While some insurance companies may cover the cost, others may not.

Kids and teens age 18 and younger may be able to get vaccines, including the HPV vaccine, for free through the Vaccines for Children program. They must be able to get Medicaid; be American Indian or Alaska Native; or not have insurance. Some states or counties provide free or low-cost vaccines at public health clinics for people without health insurance coverage for vaccines. The pharmaceutical companies who make the vaccines also may have programs to reduce vaccine costs.

Getting the vaccine is a personal decision

M. D. Anderson recommends that girls and women ages 11 to 26 receive the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, precancerous genital lesions and genital warts. It’s important to remember that no vaccine is 100% effective, and the HPV vaccine does not cover all forms of the virus. But, it does cover the types that cause more than half of cervical cancers. Whatever the decision, to vaccinate or not, getting the vaccine is a personal decision that should be made based on facts.

Related Links:

HPV Vaccine (M. D. Anderson)
Get the Facts: Cervical Cancer & HPV (M. D. Anderson)

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It’s been about four years since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Human Papilloma Virus or HPV vaccine. What have we learned about the vaccine during this time? Take a look at what recent reports say.

© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center