When should I get the HPV immunization?
The best time to get the HPV vaccine is before you've started having sexual activity. That's why the CDC recommends that girls get their vaccination at age 11 or 12, although they can get the vaccine as early as age 9. If you're 13 or older and you haven't already been vaccinated, you can still get the vaccine through age 26.
The CDC also recommends that boys age 11 or 12 should also get the HPV vaccine. Boys 13 through 21 who have not yet received the vaccine should also get it. The vaccine can be given to males through age 26, as well. Men who have sex with men, or who have weakened immune systems, should get the vaccine through age 26.
If I'm over age 26, can I still get vaccinated?
The HPV vaccine isn't recommended for people over age 26, because it hasn't been studied well enough in this age group. If enough future studies show that it is safe and effective for people over 26, the FDA may eventually start recommending it for this age group.
How many shots do I need?
You'll get three shots of the HPV vaccine over a 6-month period. You need to take all three doses to be completely protected. You'll get the second shot about 1 to 2 months after the first, and the third shot 6 months after the first. Once you've started with a vaccine brand (Cervarix or Gardasil), stick with it for all three shots.
If I already have HPV, will this vaccine treat it?
No. If you have a current HPV, the vaccine won't get rid of the infection. However, if you have one type of HPV, the vaccine may prevent you from getting another type of the virus. There's really no way to treat the virus once you have it, although there are treatments for diseases caused by HPV such as genital warts and genital cancers. This is why you should have regular pelvic exams and Pap tests (if you're female) to screen for cervical cancer.
Does the HPV vaccine protect me for life?
The vaccine appears to offer long-term protection from HPV. However, even women who have received the vaccine should see their gynecologist regularly for a Pap test to check for cervical cancer, because the vaccine doesn’t protect against all HPV types that can cause cervical cancer.
Will my insurance cover the cost of the HPV vaccine?
Most insurance plans cover routine vaccines, which means that if you're in the recommended age group, your insurance should pay for the vaccine. Check with your insurance company just to be sure. If your family doesn't have health insurance or you're on Medicaid, you should be able to get the HPV vaccine for free through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program.