Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine

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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine


Generic NameBrand Name
human papillomavirus quadrivalent vaccine (types 6, 11, 16, 18)Gardasil
human papillomavirus vaccine (types 16, 18)Cervarix

How It Works

These vaccines are given in three shots (injections) over 6 months. In response to these vaccines, which contain an inactive form of human papillomavirus (HPV), your body makes antibodies against the virus. This response is known as active immunity.

Why It Is Used

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 100 known types of HPV, some of which are known to cause cervical cancer or genital warts. Both Gardasil and Cervarix protect against the two most common types of cancer-causing HPV (types 16 and 18), while Gardasil also protects against two viruses that can cause genital warts (types 6 and 11).

Gardasil is recommended for girls 9 to 13 years of age. It's important that girls get the vaccine before they begin to have sex. Males ages 9 to 26 can get three Gardasil shots to reduce the chance of getting genital warts. Cervarix is approved for use in females 10 to 25 years of age.

Older girls and women 14 to 45 years of age may also benefit from getting an HPV vaccine, even if they are already having sex or have had abnormal Pap test, cervical cancer, genital warts, or HPV infection.1 These girls and women may not yet have HPV infection or the HPV types that the vaccines block.

You can keep track of when your child received vaccines using the National Childhood Immunization Record (What is a PDF document?), the Alberta childhood immunization record (What is a PDF document?), or the British Columbia Childhood Immunization Record (What is a PDF document?).

How Well It Works

For girls and women who do not have HPV, the vaccine is nearly 100% effective in preventing infection by the most common types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. But the vaccine does not affect existing cervical changes caused by HPV.1 And the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer and genital warts.

Side Effects

Mild reactions to the HPV vaccine are common and include:2

  • Pain, redness, swelling, or itchiness where the shot was given.
  • Fever.

Even though serious allergic reactions are rare with Gardasil, call your doctor or local health unit right away if you or your child has trouble breathing, a high fever, or anything unusual after having the shot.

A person who has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine or to yeast should not get another dose. Tell your doctor or nurse if you or your child has had a severe reaction to any vaccine or has severe allergies.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

People with a mild illness, such as a cold, can get the HPV vaccine. But if they are more ill, they should wait until they are better.

Pregnant women should not get the HPV vaccine.

Because the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV, women who have received the HPV vaccine still need regular Pap tests after they become sexually active to check for changes in the cells of the cervix.

Your provincial or territorial health ministry may not yet cover the cost of the HPV vaccine outside of school-based vaccination programs. You may have to pay for the vaccine yourself.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (2007). Statement on human papillomavirus vaccine. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 33(ACS-2): 1–32.
  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Human papillomavirus: What you need to know. Vaccine Information Statement. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Available online:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised August 24, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.