BIOLOGY

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HOW DOES THE NEW HPV VACCINE RELATE TO BIOLOGY?

Vaccine Questions and Answers

HPV Vaccine Questions and Answers

Content reviewed August 2006
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Photos of women.
The vaccine, Gardasil®, protects against four HPV types, which together cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. Photos of women.

In June 2006, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend 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®, protects against four HPV types, which together cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently licensed this vaccine for use in girls/women, ages 9-26 years. The vaccine is given through a series of three shots over a six-month period.

* Who should get the HPV vaccine
* Efficacy of the HPV vaccine
* Safety of the HPV vaccine
* Cost and coverage of the HPV vaccine
* What vaccinated girls/women need to know
* The Basics about Genital HPV & Cervical Cancer
* Other ways to prevent HPV and Cervical Cancer

Who should get the HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine is 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 who have not yet received or completed the vaccine series.

These recommendations have been proposed by the ACIP—a national group of experts that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on vaccine issues. These recommendations are now being considered by CDC.

Why is the HPV vaccine recommended for such young girls?
Ideally, females should get the vaccine before they are sexually active. This is because the vaccine is most effective in girls/women who have not yet acquired any of the four HPV types covered by the vaccine. Girls/women who have not been infected with any of those four HPV types will get the full benefits of the vaccine.

Will sexually active females benefit from the vaccine?
Females who are sexually active may also benefit from the vaccine. But they may get less benefit from the vaccine since they may have already acquired one or more HPV type(s) covered by the vaccine. Few young women are infected with all four of these HPV types. So they would still get protection from those types they have not acquired. Currently, there is no test available to tell if a girl/woman has had any or all of these four HPV types.

Why is the HPV vaccine only recommended for girls/women ages 9 to 26?
The vaccine has been widely tested in 9-to-26 year-old girls/women. But research on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy has only recently begun with women older than 26 years of age. The FDA will consider licensing the vaccine for these women when there is research to show that it is safe and effective for them.

What about vaccinating boys?
We do not yet know if the vaccine is effective in boys or men. It is possible that vaccinating males will have health benefits for them by preventing genital warts and rare cancers, such as penile and anal cancer. It is also possible that vaccinating boys/men will have indirect health benefits for girls/women. Studies are now being done to find out if the vaccine works to prevent HPV infection and disease in males. When more information is available, this vaccine may be licensed and recommended for boys/men as well.

Should pregnant women get the vaccine?
The vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women. There has been limited research looking at vaccine safety for pregnant women and their unborn babies. So far, studies suggest that the vaccine has not caused health problems during pregnancy, nor has it caused health problems for the infant-- but more research is still needed. For now, pregnant women should complete their pregnancy before getting the vaccine. If a woman finds out she is pregnant after she has started getting the vaccine series, she should complete her pregnancy before finishing the three-dose series.

Efficacy of the HPV vaccine

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.

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