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HPV vaccine: 9 frequently asked questions in my Urology practice

HPV Vaccine

HPV Vaccine is important since it is protective against a very common viral infection transmitted through sexual intercourse. HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus, highly prevalent in the healthy, sexually active population. We can estimate that at least 50% of these people get the infection during their lives. As a result, the immune system produces an antibody response against the virus, and in most cases, this is enough to clear up the virus from the body before it can cause complications. However, suppose the virus persists in the body because of a weak immune response, repeated and frequent exposures or a high viral count. In that case, HPV infection can lead to genital warts and cervical, anal, and throat cancers.

The available HPV vaccines do not protect from all types of HPV (we know more than 100 variants of HPV). However, they save nearly 100% from high cancer risk HPV subtypes. It means that the HPV vaccine effectively prevents cervix, vaginal, penile, throat and anal cancer HPV related.

Which HPV Vaccine did I get?

Gardasil 9 is the most common vaccine on the market and it covers 9 high cancer risk HPV strains: 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

How does the HPV vaccine work?

The vaccine contains virus-like particles but not the actual virus. It means that the immune system produces the same antibody response that it would have in the presence of the virus. This antibody response can effectively block and inactivate the virus while entering the body.

People should get it before they’ve had a chance to be exposed to the virus. But even if they’ve been infected with one strain, it can still protect against dangerous others.

Where is HPV Vaccine administered?

HPV Vaccine is administered through intramuscular injection in the upper arm.

Can the HPV vaccine be given with other vaccines?

Since HPV is not a live vaccine, it can be safely administered the same day, or a few days apart from a different inactivated or live vaccine.

Are HPV Vaccine Side Effects common?

The HPV vaccine is safe, and no severe side effects are reported. Some fainting spells after injection have been reported among teens and young adults. Other than these, mild side effects may include:

  • Local redness or swelling of the skin at the point of injection;
  • Feverish;
  • Nausea;
  • Muscle or joint pain;
  • Weakness and fatigue;

Allergic reactions to the vaccine are rare but still possible. Symptoms like face and throat swelling and hive symptoms should prompt immediate medical evaluation and treatment.

Who Should Get vaccinated and when HPV vaccine is given?

The vaccine efficacy is higher if it’s given at a young age, before sexual activity begins, and before exposure to HPV. These are the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommendations:

  • Girls and boys ages 11 to 12. Two doses 6 to 12 months apart.;
  • People up to age 26 who aren’t already vaccinated. These people need three doses to develop a good immunity;
  • People ages 27 to 45 who are not already vaccinated and who have specific risks according to medical advice.

The body’s immune response is not as strong if people get vaccinated older than teens or adults. Moreover, once sexually active, people may already be exposed. But the vaccine can still protect from HPV strains the subjects haven’t come in contact with.

Who Should Not Get an HPV Vaccine?

Pregnancy is a contraindication of the HPV vaccine, even if there is no evidence that it causes harm to an unborn baby. Previous allergy reactions to other vaccines or yeast allergies raise the risk of allergic reactions. Other comorbidities or diseases like flu or other viral infections should be evaluated.

Will HPV Vaccines work after infection?

In my office, I see patients asking for vaccination as a treatment for recurrent genital warts HPV related. The vaccine does not cure the infection. Moreover, women must not skip their PAP test. From age 21 until age 65, women should go for a Pap test every 3 years.

Can you still get HPV even if you had the vaccine?

Yes. The vaccine does not cover all viral strains. For example, Gardasil 9 protects against the most dangerous types (9 types). Since we count more than 100 HPV, the immunity may not be effective against the remaining.