Know All About HPV Vaccines

By Dr. Kanika Batra Modi in Cancer Care / Oncology

Jan 27 , 2023 | 5 min read

The HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine works by stimulating the body's immune system to recognize and fight off the virus.

What are the different options available/ how many doses of each & the time interval?

There are currently two types of HPV vaccines available: Gardasil 9 and Cervarix.

  1. Gardasil 9 is a 9-valent vaccine; it targets nine different types of HPV. These types include HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. These types are responsible for the majority of cervical cancer cases as well as some cases of vaginal, vulvar, anal, and oropharyngeal (throat) cancer, and they also cause genital warts. Gardasil 9 protects against these types of HPV.

  2. Cervarix is a 2-valent vaccine that targets HPV types 16 and 18, responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.

Both HPV vaccines are given as a series of shots. The recommended schedule for Gardasil 9 is 2 shots given 6-12 months apart for adolescents, but for those with a weaker immune system, it may be given in three doses. While for Cervarix, 3 doses are given over a 6-month period.

It is important to note that while the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer is highly effective, it does not provide complete protection against all types of HPV, so it's still important to have regular pap screenings and cervical cancer check-ups.

What other types of cancers can the HPV vaccine prevent?

After completing the vaccine series, the body is able to produce an immune response that recognizes and fights off the virus if it is encountered again. This can prevent infection with the types of HPV targeted by the vaccine and ultimately reduce the risk of developing vaginal cancer, cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, and anal cancer, as well as genital warts caused by these types of HPV.

Can men also take the HPV vaccine?

Yes, men can take the HPV vaccine. In fact, the HPV vaccine is recommended for both men and women. The HPV vaccine is most effective when given before an individual becomes sexually active, but it can still provide some protection even if given later on.

The HPV vaccine can protect men from several types of cancer, including anal cancer, penile cancer, and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils), as well as genital warts. Men who have sex with men and men with compromised immune systems have an increased risk of developing anal cancer caused by HPV, so the vaccine is particularly important for them.

The schedule for the HPV vaccine for men is the same as for women, which is two doses for Gardasil 9, six to twelve months apart for those under 15, and three doses for those over 15, while Cervarix is 3 doses given over a 6 months period.

It is important to note that the HPV vaccine will not protect against all types of HPV, so it is still important for men to have regular cancer screenings, such as anal and penile cancer screenings. Also, the vaccine is not meant to replace routine screening tests or treat existing HPV infections or related diseases.

What age is most effective for the vaccine (too late to get it done)?

The schedule for the HPV vaccine depends on the type of vaccine used and the age of the person receiving the vaccine.

  • For the Gardasil 9 vaccine, the recommended schedule is as follows:

    • For individuals ages 9 to 14: two doses given six to twelve months apart.

    • For individuals ages 15 to 45: a three-dose series given at 0, 2, and 6 months, if not completed in their teens.

  • For the Cervarix vaccine, the recommended schedule for individuals ages 10 to 25 is a three-dose series at 0, 1, and 6 months.

It is important to receive all doses of the HPV vaccine as scheduled for it to be most effective. Additionally, it is important for vaccinated women to still go for regular cervical cancer screenings, regardless of their vaccination status. It can help detect any abnormal cervical cells the vaccine may have missed or any abnormal cervical cells that developed after vaccination.

Are there health conditions that prevent one from getting the vaccine (if any)?

While the HPV vaccine is generally safe and effective, certain individuals may not be advised to receive it.

Some people may not be able to receive the HPV vaccine, such as:

  • Individuals with a history of an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, such as yeast.

  • Individuals who are currently pregnant. However, women who are planning to become pregnant can receive the vaccine.

  • Individuals with a weakened immune system due to certain illnesses, such as cancer, or are taking certain medications, such as immunosuppressive drugs.

It is important for individuals to talk to their healthcare provider about their specific situation and any concerns they may have to determine if the HPV vaccine is appropriate for them.

Additionally, in some cases, an individual might have a medical contraindication or a medical history or condition that would make the HPV vaccine inappropriate for them. 

It is important to note that the HPV vaccine is not recommended for those who have already been infected with one or more types of HPV targeted by the vaccine since the vaccine cannot treat existing HPV infections. However, if the infection does not show any symptoms, it is still recommended to take the vaccine.

What could be the possible side effects of the vaccine (hormonal or otherwise)?

Like most vaccines, the HPV vaccine can cause some side effects, but these are generally mild and short-lived. The most common side effects of the HPV vaccine include:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site

  • fever

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea

These side effects usually go away on their own within a few days. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate any pain or fever.

Less common side effects of the HPV vaccine include:

  • Allergic reactions, although these are very rare. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat.

  • Fainting, which can occur after receiving any injection. If you feel faint or lightheaded after receiving the HPV vaccine, sit or lie down for a few minutes.

It is also important to note that, as with any medical intervention, there is a small chance of more serious side effects, but these are extremely rare, and there is no evidence that the HPV vaccine causes long-term health problems.

As for hormonal side effects, there is no credible evidence that the HPV vaccine causes hormonal imbalances or any changes in the hormonal level, but if you have any concerns or experience any unusual symptoms after receiving the vaccine, it's always best to consult your healthcare provider.

In summary, the HPV vaccine is considered to be safe, and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks of any possible side effects.

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