What You Need to Know About the HPV Vaccine Now That Millions More Americans Can Get It

Last week, the U.S. government updated regulations for the HPV vaccine. The vaccine, which protects people from cancers caused by the human papillomavirus, can now be administered to people up to age 45.

It is recommended that the vaccine be given to kids when they are 11 or 12 years old. It’s most effective when given at this age because HPV is transmitted sexually, so kids should be getting vaccinated before they start having sex. A lot of adults today never got vaccinated, because the vaccine didn’t exist when they were kids. The first HPV vaccine, Gardasil, was only approved in the United States in 2006. It’s important to note that the HPV vaccine is less effective for adults, because it’s likely that any adult who has had sex before has already been exposed to certain strains of HPV.

Keeping that in mind, the vaccine still protects against nine strains of HPV – and that’s certainly better than nothing. So here’s what you need to know when considering getting the HPV vaccine.

When Should Kids Get the HPV Vaccine?

“Those that should be getting vaccinated are kids,” said Dr. Heather Yeo, a colorectal surgeon and medical advisor to SurvivorNet. “You’re supposed to start between about the ages of 10 to 12, and they need about three vaccines to be fully-vaccinated.”

What Kind of Cancer is Caused by HPV?

Even though most cases (9 out of 10) of HPV do go away by themselves and never cause health issues, a small percentage of cases lead to cancer. Cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus and the back of the throat have all been linked to certain strains of HPV.

How Effective is the Vaccine? 

Very. Since the HPV vaccine was introduced a little over a decade ago, HPV infections have dropped significantly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of teen girls infected with the strains of HPV that lead to cancer and genital warts has dropped 71%.

According to the CDC, there are 33,700 news cases of HPV-linked cancer every year in the U.S. – and the HPV vaccine could prevent 90% of those.

Is it Effective for Older Adults?

It’s less effective. Since most adults in the United States have already had sex and been exposed to HPV, the Gardasil 9 vaccine, though it’s approved for people up to age 45, will provide less protection. The vaccines will prevent the covered strains of HPV only if a person gets it BEFORE exposure.

Although the vaccine is approved for people up to age 45, the American Cancer Society notes that if possible, people should get it when they are teenagers, up until age 26.

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