HPV vaccines protect against a very common sexually transmitted virus called HPV or human papillomavirus. HPV infects at least 50% of sexually active people at some point in their lives. The virus often clears on its own. If it persists, it can lead to cervical, anal, and throat cancers and to genital warts.
One HPV vaccine, Gardasil, was licensed for use by the FDA in 2006. It is recommended as a routine vaccination for females aged 9-26 years old and for boys and men aged 11 to 21. It is a three-dose series.
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Another HPV vaccine, Cervarix, was licensed in 2009 for use in females aged 10-25.
Like all vaccines, these HPV vaccines are not foolproof. They do not protect against all of the 100-plus types of HPV. But both vaccines are nearly 100% effective in preventing disease caused by high-risk strains of HPV -- HPV 16 and 18 -- which together account for 70% of all cervical cancers, as well as many cancers of the vagina and vulva.
Gardasil, the First HPV Vaccine
Gardasil, the HPV vaccine made by Merck & Co., was licensed for use in June 2006. It targets four types of HPV: 6, 11, 16 and 18. Types 16 and 18 lead to cervical cancer. HPV 6 and HPV 11 cause about 90% of genital warts.
The vaccine contains a virus-like particle but not the actual virus. Three doses are given over six months to females aged 9-26.
Gardasil costs $120 per dose. Insurance coverage is common within the recommended age ranges. The federal Vaccines for Children Program covers the vaccine for those under age 19 who qualify. No serious HPV vaccine side effects have been found, although fainting spells following injection have been reported in teens and young adults. Sometimes soreness occurs at the injection site. It should not be administered to pregnant women.