Fact or fiction: 10 misconceptions about the HPV vaccine

March 13, 2019 | by Jonathan Gibson, M.D.

You’ve probably heard it once, and you’ll hear it again and again. Researchers continue to study the benefits of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and how it can help protect children against cancer.

Eighty percent of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. While most HPV infections will go away on their own, infections that don’t go away can cause certain cancers in men and women. HPV vaccination can prevent most of these cancers from ever developing.

Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions about the HPV vaccine and it can be difficult to stay up-to-date on the latest research. Here are some of the things you need to know about the vaccine in order to protect your children: 

  1. The HPV vaccine can help prevent nine different HPV types: FACT
    The HPV vaccine has been proven to protect against:
    • HPV types 16 and 18, the two types that cause 80 percent of cervical cancer cases
    • HPV types 6 and 11, which cause 90 percent of genital warts cases
    • Five additional types of HPV (types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) that can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, penis or throat

    Note: HPV infections can cause six types of cancer, but doctors only routinely screen for cervical cancer. The other five types may not be detected until they cause health problems.

  2. The HPV vaccine is only for girls: FICTION
    The HPV vaccine is recommended for both girls and boys. Doctors recommend vaccination start at age 11 or 12, though some doctors may recommend it as young as age 9.

  3. The HPV vaccine should be given to be given to girls before their first sexual contact: FACT
    For HPV vaccine to be most effective, the series should be given prior to exposure to HPV. If the vaccine is given to girls while they are young before they’ve had sex, the vaccine can prevent almost 100 percent of diseases caused by HPV.

  4. The HPV vaccine is safe to administer: FACT
    The HPV vaccine has been well studied. The findings from clinical trials show HPV vaccines to be safe and effective, leading to the Federal Drug Administration’s decision to license each vaccine.

  5. The HPV vaccine can cause premature menopause in young women, leading to infertility: FICTION
    Since the vaccine’s introduction in 2006, vaccine safety monitoring studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show there is no evidence that HPV vaccines cause reproductive problems in women.

  6. The HPV vaccine can be completed in one shot: FICTION
    The HPV vaccine is given to preteens who are 11 or 12 years old as a series of two shots, given 6-12 months apart. For teens older than age 14, three shots will need to be given over six months.

  7. The HPV vaccine contains harmful ingredients: FICTION
    The CDC has approved this vaccine as safe and effective. Like any vaccine or medicine, the HPV vaccination can cause side effects. The most common side effects are mild and can include pain, redness, swelling in the arm where the shot was given, dizziness, fainting, nausea and headache.

  8. The HPV vaccine can protect you for at least 10 years: FACT
    Studies have followed people who received the HPV vaccine for 10 years, and protection continues to remain high in individuals with no evidence of the protection decreasing overtime.

  9. The HPV vaccine enables you to skip your Pap test: FICTION
    The vaccine is not effective against all HPV types, just the ones most commonly associated with cancer. Even if you have been vaccinated for HPV, you should still have your Pap test according to the same schedule as someone who has not been vaccinated. (Every three years if your test is normal.)

  10. The HPV vaccine is not covered by health insurance: FICTION
    Most health insurance plans cover the cost of the HPV vaccine series, but you’ll want to check with your insurance company to be sure.

The truth of the matter is this: the HPV vaccine can help protect children and save lives. If you’re still concerned about whether the vaccination is right for your child, talk to your physician. Your physician can help you decide what is right for you and your family.

Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Related blogs:

5 reasons your tween should get the HPV vaccine

My pap test came back abnormal, should I be worried?

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