‘Science Says’ Sunday – HPV and the HPV Vaccine

Another ‘Science Says’ Sunday is here and this one came HIGHLY requested, so here’s some info about the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and the HPV vaccine you will want to read!
First, let’s start with what HPV is and what it does:

What: HPV is one of THE most common sexually transmitted infections in humans. Since there are often no symptoms, it’s difficult to know whether the person is infected or not. A person can be infected with the virus for years and not have symptoms until years later. There are different types of HPV (just like the different strains of the flu virus we talked about last week, remember??), and the different types can result in different outcomes (see the What does HPV do? below).

Who, What, and When: It can be transmitted during any sexual encounter that involves vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. Anyone can get it, even if the person has only had sex with one single person.

What does HPV do? In most people, the virus ‘goes away’ on its own, much like the body would clear a cold virus. However, in some cases, the virus remains ‘hidden’ or ‘sleeping’ in the body. When that happens, it can lead to things like genital warts, cervical cancer, or mouth/throat cancer, specifically cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils. It can also cause other cancers like cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. The strains that cause cervical cancer are not the same as the ones that cause genital warts.

What can you do to prevent infection?? I know that vaccines can be scary and there was A LOT of interest about the HPV vaccine, specifically when I asked about topics to cover for this series. I totally get it. This vaccine was not around when people my age (late 30s-40s) were growing up, and much like any new thing, there is a lot of talk about it. Peer-reviewed studies (those that have super strict guidelines for assessing how valid a study is and who funded it and whether the results can be generalized to all populations affected, for example), show that the vaccine is SAFE and helps PREVENT the diseases caused by HPV infection.

Who should get the vaccine and when: Current guidelines recommend that the vaccine for those who are ages 11 or 12 (or you can start at 9 years old) for both boys and girls. Adults aged 27-45 who have not been vaccinated can speak with their healthcare provider about their risk for new infections and consideration about whether or not to get the HPV vaccine. Scientific evidence does suggest that the HPV vaccine provides less benefit when people have a higher likelihood of having been already exposed to HPV. People used to think that HPV only lead to cervical cancer and if cervical cancer is a woman’s disease, then why do boys need the vaccine too. Here’s where we get into what ‘herd immunity’ is and WHY vaccines are SO IMPORTANT for the general population. The ONLY way to fully eradicate (get rid of complete) a disease, is to have everyone – or as close to it – free of disease. So herd immunity works by making sure that a large enough proportion of the population is vaccinated so that the majority can protect the few people who can’t be vaccinated (like babies, older individuals who are sick, people with cancer, people getting chemotherapy, etc). So, in order to prevent cancer and all the other diseases caused by HPV, we need to get the HPV vaccine and both boys and girls need to get it before the first time they have sex. It doesn’t mean that getting the HPV vaccine will make them ready to have sex (especially at 9-11 years of age) it just means they will be protected when they do, even if the first time isn’t until they are 30. 🙂

HPV vaccine risks: This is a point of contention for many and there is so much mis-information about this out there. Here is what we know: We have now had data on the vaccine that spans 12 years. In that time, clinical trials, use by many in the general community, reports to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all agree that the vaccine is SAFE TO USE with MINIMAL risks. Overwhelming data suggests that the most frequent side effects include dizziness after getting the vaccine and something called syncope (fainting), which sometimes happen to people generally when getting any shot, the HPV shot included. While blogs and the anti-vax community has stated that the HPV vaccine leads to adverse effects such as death, there is no evidence to suggest that the HPV vaccine has been directly responsible (ie, no evidence to suggest HPV is causal for death as an outcome) for any deaths in individuals who have gotten the vaccine to date.
This summary comes from evidence provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and highly reviewed, scientifically regarded studies published in peer-reviewed journals with no conflicts to declare.

For more information and to peruse the sources for today’s post, please visit:

One thought on “‘Science Says’ Sunday – HPV and the HPV Vaccine

  1. Angelyn Boston says:

    This info was a tremendous help to demystify the HPV vaccine. I have a 10 year old granddaughter and have been worried as to whether she should get the vaccine. With this info, I feel confident that her mother and I along with the pediatrician can have an informed discussion about it now. Thanks Dr. !


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