10 Truths (and Lies) You’ve Been Told About the HPV Vaccine

The vast majority of us were given vaccines as infants to guard against a variety of illnesses like mumps, hepatitis B, and polio, and we know it was for good reason. They’re meant to boost our immunity and protect us against potentially life-threatening health issues. When the human papillomavirus vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006, however, it was met with a mix of praise and concern.

Finally, there was a way to help prevent cervical cancer in young women and control the spread of HPV among sexually active individuals, but many thought the vaccine came with its own set of dangers. We’re here to set the record straight so you know what’s real and what’s not when it comes to the virus and the accompanying vaccine. Here are 10 truths and lies you need to be aware of.

1. Truth: The vaccine protects against multiple types of HPV

HPV vaccine in a vial next to a syringe

Vial filled with HPV vaccine | iStock.com

There are around 100 different types of HPV, and the majority of sexually active individuals will come into contact with the virus at least once, the World Health Organization says. While most types of HPV will go away on their own, some are known to cause genital warts, cervical cancer, and a few other kinds of cancer. The HPV vaccines currently available primarily target the two strains commonly associated with cancer. These specific strains are known to cause 70% of all cervical cancer cases and precancerous lesions on the cervix.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes HPV causes 30,700 cancers in men and women every year in the U.S., and 28,000 of these cases are preventable with the vaccine.

2. False: Only women can get vaccinated

female doctor writing notes while talking to a patient

Doctor talking to her patient | iStock.com

Many believe because HPV has the potential to cause cervical cancer, only young women can receive the vaccine. But this could not be further from the truth. The CDC says both young girls and boys should be offered the vaccine by their doctor when they’re around the age of 11 or 12, as men who contract HPV can still get cancer in the penis, anus, or back of the throat. They’ll receive the vaccine in two doses six to 12 months apart, or in three doses if the first two sessions are less than five months apart, and be protected before they even hit their teenage years.

3. True: The vaccine can protect against genital warts

Doctor with a syringe

Doctor with a syringe | iStock.com

Because some genital warts are caused by strains of HPV, the vaccine can help protect you. Though MedicineNet.com says genital warts only lead to additional symptoms for some, they’re still unpleasant. There is good news, though. If you get warts from this virus, there’s a good chance you have a low-risk type that’s not associated with cancer.

It’s also important to note you don’t need to see or feel genital warts to infect others. Just because you have no noticeable symptoms doesn’t mean you haven’t come into contact with any of the strains. So, make sure to protect yourself and others when engaging in sexual activity.

4. False: The vaccine can kill you

Man feeling very unwell

Man feeling very unwell | iStock.com

There have been various accounts claiming the HPV vaccine has caused death, but so far, it’s all been debunked. In one particular case outlined by Fox6 News, a 12-year-old girl was said to have gone to a doctor’s appointment for a sore throat. Once there, the doctor gave her the first shot, then she died later that day. Though many were skeptical the vaccine played a role, medical examiners determined toxic levels of an ingredient commonly found in Benadryl was the actual cause. The vaccine, it seems, was totally unrelated to her death.

The Vaccine Adverse Reporting System received 117 reports of death from 2006 to 2015 after people passed away once getting a shot of Gardasil, a well-known brand of HPV vaccine. This sounds scary, but it doesn’t mean the vaccine caused the deaths — it just means the death occurred after a shot was administered. There’s no evidence to support the HPV vaccines kill people.

5. True: The vaccine gives long-lasting protection

young teens playing videogames outdoors

Teenagers all hanging out together | iStock.com/oneinchpunch

The HPV vaccine might not protect you forever, but the CDC explains there’s data showing it may last for as long as 10 years. It’s still being monitored to see just how long it will last, and its effectiveness may also vary depending on when the person was vaccinated and if they completed all recommended doses. If it turns out protection doesn’t last quite this long, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will go over their findings to see if a booster shot should be administered in some cases. As of now, this hasn’t happened.

6. False: The vaccine has caused serious side effects

couple meeting with a female doctor

A patient meeting up her doctor | iStock.com

All medications and vaccines can come with side effects, but the ones associated with this shot aren’t more severe than usual. The Cancer Council of Australia says you can expect redness or swelling at the area of the injection, and more serious side effects can occur if you’re allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine, but this is rare.

Some have shown concern over whether the HPV vaccine can cause premature menopause, but the site assures there has been no scientific data to support this claim. Be careful with what you read on social media, as this is where many get their misleading information.

7. True: You’re not protected against all STDs if you’re vaccinated

woman getting a vaccination

Woman getting a vaccine | Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

It would be great if this vaccine could protect against more than just a few strains of HPV and genital warts, but unfortunately, you can still contract all other STDs if you’re sexually active. It’s also recommended boys and girls get their vaccination before they become sexually active so they’re always protected against the more dangerous types of the virus, WebMD reports.

It’s vital to protect against STDs by practicing safe sex. Use latex condoms whenever you’re engaging in sexual contact, and when in doubt, always get tested at least once yearly.

8. False: The vaccine is extremely expensive

Man calculates money on calculator along with piggy bank

Calculating medical expenses | iStock.com

Because the vaccine takes between two or three doses, you may assume it’s ridiculously priced and, therefore, not worth getting. But this isn’t the case. Verywell explains there are multiple ways to get vaccinated without spending hundreds of dollars upfront. For example, the Merck Vaccine Patience Assistance Program can help women in the U.S. who are uninsured and over 19 years old get Gardasil from their doctor. You have to apply to this program to qualify, but it’s generally a quick process and can save you a lot of money in the long run.

For those who are under 18 and uninsured, the Vaccines for Children program is another option. Planned Parenthood, university medical clinics, and local clinics may also provide the HPV shots for a reduced price, so make sure to do some research before shelling out.

9. True: There’s more than one HPV vaccine

Visiting the doctor

A man visiting the doctor | iStock.com

There are currently three vaccines approved by the FDA to fight various strains of the virus, the National Cancer Institute explains. The options are Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. Both Gardasil and Gardasil 9 are approved for men and women while Cervarix is specifically for women. All vaccines also protect against the two strains that are known to cause cancer, but Gardasil provides additional protection from two strains that can cause genital warts. Additionally, Gardasil 9 prevents infection from five other high-risk HPV types.

10. False: You have to be under 18 to get vaccinated

elementary school kids in school corridor

Children standing together | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

While most doctors will recommend children as early as 9 years old get vaccinated, you can receive it into your 20s. The American Cancer Society says men and women up to 26 years of age can ask their doctor about getting the vaccine. Just know vaccination becomes less effective at lowering the risk of cancer when administered later on. The ACS also recommends men who have sexual intercourse with other men or those who have HIV get the shots for added protection, even if they’re 26.