HPV Vaccine: A Guide for Parents

Key Facts
  • The HPV vaccine does NOT cure an existing HPV infection.
  • The vaccine works best before a young woman (or young man) becomes sexually active.
  • Currently, there is only one HPV vaccines available in the United States that protects against certain types of HPV: Gardasil 9®.
  • The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends that both boys and girls receive the HPV vaccine by age 11 and 12 and that the series can be started as early as 9 years old.
  • October 2016 – Based on recent findings, the CDC now recommends that anyone who receives the HPV vaccine before their 15th birthday requires only 1 additional dose, a total of 2 doses (instead of 3). The 2nd dose should be given 6-12 months after the first one.
  • Anyone starting the HPV vaccine series after the age of 15 should receive 3 doses; the 2nd dose should be given 1-2 months after the first dose and the 3rd dose should be given 6 months after the first dose.
  • Esta guía en Español
  • Young men's version of this guide


According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 79 million Americans are infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are many different types of HPV (Human Papillomavirus). There are about 150 different types and more than 40 are sexually transmitted. Researchers keep track of the different types of HPV by identifying them with numbers such as 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

Some types cause genital warts (flesh colored growths that may appear around the vagina or anus), others cause pre-cancerous changes (cellular changes that can lead to cancer of the cervix later). In rare cases, the virus can cause other types of cancers to the vulva, vagina, and anus in girls, the anus and penis in males, and the oropharynx (back of throat, base of tongue and tonsils) in both.

Is my son or daughter at risk of getting HPV?

If your son or daughter is or plans to be sexually active in their lifetime, they are  at risk for getting HPV. Any sexually active person—no matter what color, race, gender, or sexual orientation—can get HPV. In fact, nearly every person living in the United States, who is sexually active will develop HPV (at some point in their lives) if they have NOT been vaccinated against it. .

About 14 million Americans are infected by HPV every year. In the United States, HPV has been linked as the cause of cancer in nearly 35,000 cases, effecting both men and women.  – Centers for Disease Control

Some people who have been infected with the HPV virus know they have it because they have had genital warts or an abnormal Pap test, or have tested positive for HPV. However, most people do not know they have HPV because they do not have symptoms.

How is HPV spread?

HPV and genital warts are usually spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who is infected with HPV. Condoms and dental dams (used as a barrier during oral sex) can help protect against HPV, but they aren’t perfect because warts can be found on skin that isn’t covered by a condom. HPV can be in the skin and genital organs without any symptoms. In fact, the only way that is 100% effective in preventing exposure to HPV is avoiding any kind of sexual activity that involves contact with genital areas.

How does the HPV vaccine work?

The vaccine is a fluid that has very small particles in it that look like HPV. After the vaccine is given, the body quickly starts making antibodies against the certain types of HPV. Antibodies are necessary to fight HPV. Remember that the virus is not a live virus, which means your son or daughter can’t get HPV from the vaccine.

How does a vaccine get approved?

Before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves any medicine or vaccine, scientists and doctors must study it. After researching the vaccine for a long time, the pharmaceutical company must show that the vaccine will improve the health of people who receive it. Gardasil 9® has been approved by the FDA since 2014.  Gardasil 9® protects against 9 different types of HPV (the first 4 strains 6, 11, 16, 18, and also 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

Is the HPV vaccine effective?

Gardasil 9® protects young women and men against nine different types of HPV including the four previously covered by Gardasil® (6, 11, 16, 18) and five additional types (31, 33, 45, 52, and 58). Overall, Gardasil 9® is expected to prevent 90% of genital warts and 90% of cervical cancers. It can also prevent some vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers.

The HPV vaccine works best for both girls and boys who have not yet come in contact with these viruses. It is recommended for all adolescents 11 and 12 year olds as a routine vaccination and for everyone between 13-26 years of age who have not yet received the vaccine

The HPV is less effective in young women and men who have already come in contact with the HPV types in the vaccine. However, if a person has been exposed only to one of the types, the vaccines still gives protection against the remaining types. So, even people who have had sexual contact should get immunized.

It is important for your son or daughter to plan on returning to their health care provider for the second and third shots.

When is the best time for my son or daughter to get vaccinated?

The best time for your son or daughter to get vaccinated is before they comes in contact with the HPV virus. In fact, the government organization that decides when children and adolescents should be immunized recommends that all 11 and 12 year olds receive it. Health care providers can also offer the vaccine to younger girls and boys  (9 and 10 year olds).

Are there any side effects with the HPV vaccine?

Side effects are rare; however, some adolescents who get the vaccine may complain of pain, or have swelling, redness, or itchiness where they got the shot (arm or thigh). These discomforts are temporary, but may last a couple of days. In very few cases, side effects may include a fever, dizziness, and/or nausea. Some adolescents have fainted after receiving the vaccine, so your child may want to sit quietly for 10-15 minutes after receiving the vaccine.

It is very uncommon to have side-effects from vaccines. If you think your adolescent might have had a side-effect from a vaccine, talk to their health care provider. You can also call 1-800-822-7967 or log on to vaers.hhs.gov.

Does my son or daughter have a choice about getting the HPV vaccine?

Yes. The HPV vaccine is not mandatory, but there are 42 states (in the U.S.) that require the vaccine. . With that being said, most health care providers will recommend the vaccine if your adolescent is between the ages of 9-26 to reduce their risk of cancer―the younger, the better. For more information about state legislation policies regarding the HPV vaccine, see the national conference of state legislatures site.

How do I know if son or daughter should get the HPV vaccine?

Talk it over with your son or daughters  health care provider. Now that the vaccine is available, it is a good idea to take advantage of it. Most young women and men will become sexually active at some point in their lives, and the vaccine is very effective in preventing the spread of HPV. The risk of getting HPV is far worse than getting a shot.

Is there any reason why my son or daughter shouldn’t get the HPV vaccine?

The vaccine is not recommended if a young women or men if they are  allergic to any of the components of the HPV vaccine, has certain blood conditions, an immune disorder or certain other medical problems. In addition, women who are pregnant should not receive the HPV vaccine. If you are thinking about having your adolescent vaccinated, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your son or daughter and their health care provider to see if there is any reason why they shouldn’t get the vaccine.

Should my son or daughter get the HPV vaccine if they are already sexually active?

Yes. Young women and men should receive the vaccine even if they have already had sex. It is not necessary for your son or daughter to have an HPV test before getting the vaccine.

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

The vaccine is considered safe by FDA standards. It does not contain mercury or thimerosal.

If my daughter or son already has HPV, will the vaccine help?

It depends on what type of HPV your daughter or son has been exposed to. The vaccine won’t cure an HPV infection that they already have   , such as genital warts, pre-cancers (changes that happen before a cancer starts to grow), or cervical cancer. However, many people who have HPV are not infected with all the types of HPV that the vaccine targets. Since there is no test available to tell for sure if a person has had just one or multiple types of the HPV virus, it is recommended to get the vaccine so they can have protection from the types he or she may not yet have come in contact with.

If my child  gets the HPV vaccine will she be protected for the rest of her life?

The vaccine is effective for at least 8 years, but is likely effective even longer. It is currently unknown, but it’s possible that at some point in the future a booster may be recommended.

Does insurance cover the HPV vaccine?

Most private health insurance plans cover the HPV vaccine. If you do not have insurance, there are programs available to help you get the vaccine for little to no cost.  If you must pay for the vaccine on your own, it typically costs about $250.

Will there be a vaccine someday that prevents other types of HPV?

It’s very possible that someday there will be a vaccine that works to prevent more types of HPV.

Having a vaccine that protects against types of HPV that cause serious problems including warts (types 6 and 11) and cervical and anal cancers (types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 for Gardasil 9®) is a huge deal and very exciting. Remember, the HPV vaccine protects you against a few kinds of the virus, but it doesn’t protect you from all 150+ of them. It’s still very important to go for regular check-ups and Pap tests. Be sure that you always use condoms if you’re sexually active. Talk to your health care provider about whether the vaccine is right for you.