Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, it’s so common that nearly every sexually active person will develop it at least once in their life. Because HPV spreads so easily, and because it often doesn’t have any symptoms, vaccines are an important tool for preventing infection.
These vaccines target HPV strains that carry a higher risk of genital warts and cancers. The vaccines are highly effective, but they aren’t equally effective for everyone. There are certain guidelines for who should get the vaccine, and when.
Who should get the vaccine?
There are a few groups of people who should definitely get the HPV vaccine.
- Girls and boys ages 11 or 12: This is the ideal age range for recipients of the vaccine, for a few reasons. At this age, the vast majority aren’t sexually active and haven’t been exposed to various strains of HPV, which is important because the vaccine is less effective among people who have been exposed to the condition. Children at this age respond better to the vaccine than do children over age 12, and as they get older they may be less likely to go in for checkups.
- Any sexually active person who has not had vaccination: Although this group benefits less as it’s possible that HPV has already been introduced, women up to age 26, and men up to age 21 are eligible to receive the HPV vaccination.
- Men who have sex with men through age 26: Men in this group can benefit from the vaccination. In addition, men who have compromised immune systems from HIV should also get the vaccination to protect against the effects of HPV.
Who should not get the vaccine?
Despite how effective the vaccine can be at preventing certain strains of HPV, there are still some people for whom the vaccine might not be safe or suitable.
- People over the age of 26: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that women over the age of 26 don’t benefit from the HPV vaccine. The best way for them to prevent against cervical cancer is to go to routine screenings at their provider’s office and get frequent pap smears.
- Women who are pregnant: The vaccine could compromise their health. It’s best to wait until after pregnancy to get the HPV vaccine.
- People who have a serious illness: According to the Mayo Clinic, the HPV vaccine isn’t recommended for people who currently moderately to severely ill. It’s best to wait until the illness clears before getting vaccinated.
If any of the above apply to you, you should talk to your provider about the vaccine. It might be the case that it wouldn’t pose a problem to your health, but it’s always a good idea to check.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “HPV vaccine: Who needs it, how it works.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Aug 3 2016. Web.
- “HPV Vaccines: Vaccinating Your Preteen or Teen.” CDC.gov. US Department of Health and Human Services, Jul 21 2016. Web.