Medical provider gives a boy a shot in his arm at a healthcare facility.
Renata Angerami/E+ via Getty Images

The HPV vaccine and why it’s so important

The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for kids between ages 11 to 12, as well as for preteens, teens, and young adults who haven’t gotten it yet.

But what is the HPV vaccine, exactly, and why is it important? Here’s what parents should know.

What is the HPV vaccine?

HPV is short for human papillomavirus. It’s the most common STI (sexually transmitted infection), with over 40 million people contracting it a year, mostly in their teens and early 20s.

The infection can cause various health problems ranging from genital warts to different types of cancer. And the HPV vaccine protects against conditions caused by the infection.

Why is the HPV vaccine important for tweens and teens?

HPV is passed from person to person through sexual contact. According to the CDC, it often goes away on its own within a couple of years and may not lead to any negative health effects. 

But about 10% of the time, it causes health problems. This includes genital warts and various cancers, including cervical cancer and cancer of the penis, vulva, vagina, anus, and oropharynx (back of the throat).

The HPV vaccine is important, even for those who aren’t sexually active yet. Getting it early on will protect your preteen or teen long before they are sexually active and potentially exposed to the virus.

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

The HPV vaccine is considered safe at any age, including during the preteen and teen years. It offers long-lasting protection from various health problems and has been thoroughly researched and tested in clinical trials.

But like any vaccine or medication, it might cause mild, temporary side effects. This includes pain or redness at the injection site, nausea, headaches, or dizziness.

In more rare cases, the HPV vaccine might cause fainting in adolescents. For this reason, preteens and teens are often advised to sit or lay down for about 15 minutes after they get the shot.

In the end, the benefits of getting the vaccination outweigh the potential risk of side effects.

HPV immunization schedule for tweens and teens

The HPV vaccine is recommended for those of all genders between the ages of 9 and 12, as well as for older children, teens, and young adults who haven’t gotten it yet. At first, the vaccine was marketed at girls as protection from cervical cancer, so often parents of boys didn’t think it was necessary. But HPV can impact any person, and stopping the spread depends on all people being vaccinated.

It’s given in a series of two or three shots. Ages 9 to 14 will usually get two shots over a six to 12-month period. Ages 15 to 26 will typically get three shots over a six-month period.

Is the HPV vaccine covered by health insurance?

Most health insurance policies cover the HPV vaccine. In many cases, you won’t have to pay any out-of-pocket costs. And since the vaccine is part of the federally funded Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, it’s supposed to be given at no cost to those who may be unable to pay.

If your child or teen hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet, get in touch with your healthcare provider and make an appointment sooner than later.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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