Understanding the HPV Vaccine

Today, there is a vaccine on the market called Gardasil that can help some people deal with HPV. It is available for girls between the ages of 9 and 26. It won't protect against all types of HPV, but does protect against four types including types 6, 11, 16 and 18. These include the types that cause cervical cancers and genital warts.

Who Should Get the Vaccine?

The vaccine is most ideal for females before they become sexually active. Those who are already sexually active can certainly benefit from the vaccine as well, but they will receive less benefit since they may already have gotten an HPV that is targeted by the vaccine. The vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women. While there hasn't been too much research done in this area yet, the studies so far indicate that the vaccine does not cause health problems in the fetus. However, more research is still needed and it's not recommended yet for pregnant women.

Why Only Women Ages 9-26?

The vaccine has only been widely tested in this age range so far. New research is necessary to see if the vaccine is also safe and effective for women older than 26. The FDA will consider licensing the vaccine for women over this age, but not until more research has been finished. The vaccine has also not yet been proven to help boys and men. More research is being done in this area as well.

Are There Side Effects?

Tests so far of the vaccine have only shown minor problems. So people report headaches, slight fever, nausea or fainting. Others have reported redness or bruising on the skin, and some pain and swelling where the spot was administered on the body. When you receive the shot, it's important to be lying down and to remain at the doctor's office or clinic for at least 15 minutes afterwards so that the doctor can monitor you for any problems.

Is It Effective?

The vaccine does not cure any HPV that you already have. It is, however, between 95-100% effective in preventing future problems with types 6, 11, 16 and 18. About 30% of cervical cancers will still not be prevented with the vaccine. It is important for women to continue to get screened for cervical cancers through regular Pap tests. The vaccine also doesn't protect against other STDs.

What Is the Procedure for the Shots

There are three shots in the series. You'll need a second shot two months after receiving the first one. The third shot is then given six months after the first one. It is still unclear whether a booster will be needed as a follow up a few years later. The FDA is still looking into this question.

Is the Vaccine Safe?

The vaccine has been licensed by the FDA and approved by the CDC for females from ages 9 to 26. It was studied in thousands of females between these ages from around the world and was found to be safe. It continues to be monitored by these groups.

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