Dr Danie Schneider
Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Somerset West

HPV vaccination

What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccines protect against certain cancers caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. There are currently three HPV vaccines available. In South Africa we are expecting the vaccine that will protect against 9 HPV types to be available soon.

Who should be vaccinated?

1. The target age for HPV vaccination is 11-12 years for boys and girls.
2. For girls and boys who receive their first does of HPV vaccination before 15 years of age, only two doses are needed.
3. In those who did not get vaccinated, vaccination can be done as catch-up until age 26.
4. HPV testing is not recommended before vaccination.
5. Even if a patient has a history of a genital wart or an abnormal pap test, vaccination is still recommended.
6. HPV vaccination is not recommended in pregnancy. If the series of vaccinations are interrupted by pregnancy, the series should resume after delivery and can also be given to breastfeeding women.
7. Vaccination is not harmful if given after the age of 26, but it may be less effective.

Why should I give the vaccination to my daughter at such a young age?

1. The HPV vaccine prevents infection, but cannot treat it once it has developed.
2. It works best given before HPV exposure through intimate contact (intercourse is not required).
3. The best age for HPV vaccination is at age 11-12 years as children at that age has a stronger response to the vaccine. This may result in longer lasting immunity.
4. Studies show that HPV vaccination has not been linked to girls having an earlier start to sexual activity or more sexual activity.

What about vaccinating boys/young men?

The vaccine is licensed for use in girls and boys. The target age in both sexes is 11-12 year olds. Remember that the virus can cause not just cervical cancer, but also cancer of the anus, penis and throat, as well as genital warts.

Is the vaccine safe?

1. Studies have shown that the HPV vaccines are very safe and effective.
2. The vaccines do not contain live viruses, so they can not cause HPV infection.
3. More than 60 million doses of HPV vaccination have been distributed around the world since 2006, without serious adverse effects. Since the first vaccines was licensed only 0,0003% of patients have reported adverse effects.
4. As with all vaccines, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC )and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closely monitor the safety. They maintain a safety monitoring system called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS accepts reports from anyone. It is generally not possible to determine whether a vaccine caused an adverse event.

What are the side effects?

1. It is important to understand the difference between an adverse event and a side effect. An adverse event is a health problem that happens after vaccination that may or may not be caused by the vaccine. A side effect is a health problem that has been shown to be linked to a vaccine by scientific studies.
2. HPV vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Most people who get HPV vaccines however do not have any side effects.
3. The most common side effects are very mild. Common side effects are pain and redness in the arm where the shot was given, fever, headache or dizziness, nausea and muscle or joint pain.
4. These are similar side effects seen with other vaccines.
5. Some teens might faint after getting the HPV vaccine or any other shot. It is recommended to sit down for 15 minutes after the vaccination to prevent fainting.

Does the vaccine actually work?

1. The vaccine is highly effective if given before the start of sexual activity.
2. The vaccine can reduce the risk of genital warts and HPV-related cancer and pre-cancer both, by up to 99% after the recommended shots have been given.
3. Clinical trials and ongoing research show that the vaccines provide protection for at least 10 years.
4. There is no evidence to suggest that the level of protection changes over time.