The HPV vaccine is an inactivated (not live) vaccine that protects individuals against four major types of said virus. These include two types that cause about 70% of cervical cancer and two types that cause about 90% of genital warts. Interestingly, the vaccination can prevent most genital warts and most cases of cervical cancer.
Genital HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another via direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. Most sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will never even discover or notice it. Usually, HPV infection is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s in the US.
There are approximately 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas of both males and females. Most of the HPV types show no symptoms and go away on their own. But some types can cause cervical cancer in women and other less common cancers — like cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, and vulva, and oropharynx. Other types of HPV can cause warts in the genital areas of men and women, called genital warts. These warts are not life-threatening. However, they could be bothersome that cause emotional stress and its treatment could be very unbearable for the patient.
There are 2 varieties of vaccines for HPV, namely Cervarix and Gardasil. The vaccine is given in 3 separate series of shots (injection shots on the arm) over the span of 6 months.
- Cervarix – used for HPV 16 and 18 as prevention to cervical cancer; only for females
- Gardasil – used for HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18 as prevention to genital warts and cervical/vaginal/anal cancers; for both male and females
It is expected that the protection from the vaccine will be long-lasting. Recent studies have traced vaccinated individuals for ten years and stated that there is no evidence of weakened protection over time. But women who are vaccinated still need cervical cancer screening because the vaccine doesn’t protect against all HPV types that could cause such illness.
Every year, about 12,000 females are diagnosed with cervical cancer wherein 4,000 of them die from this disease in the U.S. In addition, about 1% of sexually-active adults in the U.S. have visible genital warts at any point in time.
On the contrary, it is also important to note that vaccines are less effective in preventing HPV-related diseases in young females who have already been infected with one or more HPV types. Primarily because the vaccines prevent HPV before a person is exposed to it. The vaccination does not treat existing HPV infections or other HPV-related diseases.
Talking about side effects, reactions of those people who have had the HPV vaccine were just similar to reactions after other vaccines. The most common side effects of vaccination are pain, redness, and/or swelling at the site of injection, nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting. It is said that these reactions are temporary and show that the immune system is responding to the vaccination. The redness, pain, and swelling can be treated with a cold pack or paracetamol (if needed). Meanwhile, severe side effects such as anaphylactic (allergic) reactions are also possible, but in extremely rare cases. Some of these side effects can easily be remedied at home but in other cases such as fever, vomiting, bleeding, or anything unusual, it is advised that you check with your doctor immediately.