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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines: Everything You Need To Know

Human papillomavirus infection is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. HPV commonly spread during anal, vaginal or oral sex. It passes from an infected person to a healthy person during sex. HPV is a group of more than 200 related viruses, of which more than 40 are spread through direct sexual contact.

However, penetrative sex is not necessary for the virus to transfer as it can transfer generally by coming in skin contact with the infected genitals, especially through the mucus on the penis, anus, vulva or vagina[1] [2] .

The treatment of the infection depends on the type of virus affecting a person. In many cases, the infection needs no treatment but in severe cases, invasive treatments are required. Consequently, there are vaccines available for the prevention of the HPV and it can help protect your body from the attack of the virus.

What Are HPV Vaccines?

The HPV vaccine helps protect you against certain types of HPV that can lead to cancer or genital warts. The vaccines are given in a series of shots and the available vaccines are useful in protecting against either two, four or nine types of HPV. And all these vaccines are beneficial in protecting your body from HPV types 16 and 18, which cause the greatest risk of cervical cancer [3] .

What Does The HPV Vaccine Do?

The vaccine, according to various studies and real-life trials, can help prevent the onset of cervical cancer if given before a girl or woman is exposed to the virus. It is also effective in preventing vaginal and vulvar cancer [4] . Apart from this, the vaccine can also be used for preventing genital warts and anal cancer in both women and men.

Studies reveal that the HPV vaccines have the chance of preventing 70 per cent of cervical cancer, 80 per cent of anal cancer, 60 per cent of vaginal cancer, 40 per cent of vulvar cancer and mouth cancer (although there needs to be more clarity).

The vaccines are also useful in preventing genital warts as well [5] .

Who Should Get The HPV Vaccine?

Individuals aged between 9 and 45 can get the HPV vaccine for protection against genital warts and different types of HPV that can cause cancer. Apart from this, the vaccine is routinely recommended for girls and boys at the age of 11 and 12 (although it can be given as early as age 9).

Studies point out that, it is effective when received before individuals have sexual contact and are exposed to HPV [6] .

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the recommendations for the HPV vaccination are as follows[7] :

  • All children aged 11 or 12 years should get two HPV vaccine shots 6 to 12 months apart and if the two shots are given less than 5 months apart, a third shot will be needed.
  • Adolescents who get their first dose at age 15 or older need three doses of vaccine given over 6 months.
  • The vaccine is recommended for young women through age 26, and young men through age 21.
  • Individuals who have completed a valid series with any HPV vaccine do not need any additional doses.

Who Should Not Get The HPV Vaccine?

Pregnant women or people who are moderately or severely ill should not be given the HPV vaccine. Likewise, individuals with a severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or a previous dose of the vaccine, you shouldn't get the vaccine[7] .

How Does The HPV Vaccines Work?

The vaccines prevent the onset of complications and diseases by stimulating your body to produce antibodies which will bind to the human papillomavirus and prevent it from infecting your cells.

With the current vaccines possessing the property of virus-like particles (VLPs) that are formed by HPV surface components, the strongly immunogenic VLPs induce high levels of antibody. This, in turn, makes the vaccines highly effective in preventing the onset of diseases [8] .

The HPV vaccines are highly effective in preventing infection with the types of HPV. And it has to be done before the individual becomes sexually active. As per studies, protection against the targeted HPV types has been found to last for at least 10 years[8] .

If An Individual Already Have An HPV Infection, Can The Vaccine Treat It?

No, it cannot. If an individual already has an HPV infection, getting an HPV vaccine will not help in treating the condition. However, it can help protect from other types of HPV which are an added benefit of the HPV vaccine [9] .

Does The HPV Vaccine Have Any Side Effects?

The most common side effects of HPV vaccines include soreness, swelling or redness at the injection site. Sometimes dizziness or fainting occurs after the injection. In some individuals, headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or weakness also may occur [10] .

Apart from these, there are no severe side effects for the vaccine and studies point it out to be safe and having only mild effects [11] .

View Article References
  1. [1] Petrosky, E., Bocchini Jr, J. A., Hariri, S., Chesson, H., Curtis, C. R., Saraiya, M., ... & Markowitz, L. E. (2015). Use of 9-valent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine: updated HPV vaccination recommendations of the advisory committee on immunization practices. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 64(11), 300.
  2. [2] Joura, E. A., Giuliano, A. R., Iversen, O. E., Bouchard, C., Mao, C., Mehlsen, J., ... & Pitisuttithum, P. (2015). A 9-valent HPV vaccine against infection and intraepithelial neoplasia in women. New England Journal of Medicine, 372(8), 711-723.
  3. [3] Kreimer, A. R., Struyf, F., Del Rosario-Raymundo, M. R., Hildesheim, A., Skinner, S. R., Wacholder, S., ... & Trial, C. R. V. (2015). Efficacy of fewer than three doses of an HPV-16/18 AS04-adjuvanted vaccine: combined analysis of data from the Costa Rica Vaccine and PATRICIA trials. The Lancet Oncology, 16(7), 775-786.
  4. [4] World Health Organization. (2016). HPV vaccine communication: special considerations for a unique vaccine. 2016 update (No. WHO/IVB/16.02). World Health Organization.
  5. [5] Giuliano, A. R., Palefsky, J. M., Goldstone, S., Moreira Jr, E. D., Penny, M. E., Aranda, C., ... & Chang, Y. H. (2011). Efficacy of quadrivalent HPV vaccine against HPV Infection and disease in males. New England Journal of Medicine, 364(5), 401-411.
  6. [6] Palefsky, J. M., Giuliano, A. R., Goldstone, S., Moreira Jr, E. D., Aranda, C., Jessen, H., ... & Marshall, J. B. (2011). HPV vaccine against anal HPV infection and anal intraepithelial neoplasia. New England Journal of Medicine, 365(17), 1576-1585.
  7. [7] Sankaranarayanan, R., Joshi, S., Muwonge, R., Esmy, P. O., Basu, P., Prabhu, P., ... & Verma, Y. (2018). Can a single dose of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prevent cervical cancer? Early findings from an Indian study. Vaccine, 36(32), 4783-4791.
  8. [8] Dehlendorff, C., Sparén, P., Baldur-Felskov, B., Herweijer, E., Arnheim-Dahlström, L., Ploner, A., ... & Kjaer, S. K. (2018). Effectiveness of varying number of doses and timing between doses of quadrivalent HPV vaccine against severe cervical lesions. Vaccine, 36(43), 6373-6378.
  9. [9] Righolt, C. H., Bozat‐Emre, S., & Mahmud, S. M. (2019). Effectiveness of school‐based and high‐risk human papillomavirus vaccination programs against cervical dysplasia in Manitoba, Canada. International journal of cancer, 145(3), 671-677.
  10. [10] Verdoodt, F., Dehlendorff, C., & Kjaer, S. K. (2019). Dose-related Effectiveness of Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus Vaccine Against Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia: A Danish Nationwide Cohort Study. Clinical Infectious Diseases.
  11. [11] Bogani, G., Maggiore, U. L. R., Signorelli, M., Martinelli, F., Ditto, A., Sabatucci, I., ... & Raspagliesi, F. (2018). The role of human papillomavirus vaccines in cervical cancer: Prevention and treatment. Critical reviews in oncology/hematology, 122, 92-97.
Story first published: Monday, October 7, 2019, 8:30 [IST]
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