The New HPV Vaccine
What You Need to Know
by Sally G., MSW and Dr. H, MD www.herpes.org
In June 2006, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first vaccine developed to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases in females caused by certain types of genital human papillomavirus (HPV).
The vaccine, Gardasil®, is recommended for use in girls/women, ages 9-26 years, to protect against four HPV types, which together cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. The vaccine is given through a series of three shots over a six-month period.
The HPV vaccine is primarily recommended for 11-12 year-old girls, and can be given to girls as young as 9. The vaccine is also recommended for 13-26 year-old girls/women. The vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women.
Ideally, females should get the vaccine before they are sexually active as it is most effective in girls/women who have not yet acquired any of the four HPV types covered by the vaccine. Females who are sexually active may also benefit from the vaccine, but they may get less benefit since they may have already acquired one or more HPV type(s) covered by the vaccine.
Girls/women do not need to get an HPV test or Pap test to find out if they should get the vaccine. An HPV test or a Pap test can tell that a woman may have HPV, but cannot tell the specific HPV type(s) she has. And even females with one HPV type could get protection from the other vaccine HPV types they have not yet acquired.
Studies have found the vaccine to be almost 100% effective in preventing diseases caused by the four HPV types covered by the vaccine- including precancers of the cervix, vulva and vagina, and genital warts. The vaccine does not treat existing HPV infections, genital warts, precancers or cancers. About 30% of cervical cancers will not be prevented by the vaccine, so it is important for women to continue getting regular cervical cancer screening from the Pap test. Also, the vaccine does not prevent about 10% of HPV caused genital warts-nor will it prevent other sexually transmitted diseases (STD). So it is still important for sexually active adults to still reduce exposure to HPV and to other STDs.
Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, is a recombinant vaccine (it contains no live virus), and it contains no thimerosal or mercury. The length of vaccine protection (immunity) is not known yet, but in studies so far, women were still protected at the five year mark. More research is currently underway to determine if and when a booster vaccine is needed. Federal health programs such as Vaccines for Children (VFC) will cover the HPV vaccine.
For information on receiving Gardisil, the HPV Vaccine, please contact your gynecologist, family physician, or health clinic.
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