What Parents Should Know About the HPV Vaccines

Why should my child get the HPV vaccine?

We know HPV can cause some cancers and genital warts. HPV infection can’t be treated, but a vaccine can prevent it. The virus is so common, about 4 out of 5 people will be get it at some point in their lives. But most infected people don’t know they’re infected. The best way to prevent HPV infection is to get vaccinated.

Diseases caused by HPV that vaccination helps prevent:

  • Cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women
  • Penile cancer in men
  • Throat cancers in men and women
  • Anal cancer
  • Genital warts in men and women

We also know most, but not all, HPV infections go away on their own without lasting health problems.  But we don’t know which infections will turn into cancer. That is why it is important that all children get vaccinated against HPV.

The HPV vaccine is over 97% effective at preventing infection with the types of HPV that cause most HPV cancers when given before your child is exposed to the virus. Having your child protected also protects others from getting the virus.

When should my child get the HPV vaccine?

HPV vaccination works best at ages 11 and 12, before a child is exposed to HPV. The body develops better protection against HPV at this age than in the late teens and early 20s. The vaccine is given in two shots, with 6 to 12 months between shots. Your child can start getting vaccinated as early as age 9, and it should be completed by your child’s 13th birthday.

Children who get vaccinated at age 15 or older and those who have weakened immune systems will need 3 shots of the HPV vaccine.

Does the vaccine have side effects? Is it safe?

The HPV vaccine is safe. Most side effects are mild, like those from other vaccinations. They can include fever, headache, and pain and redness in the arm where the shot was given.

Will my health insurance cover the vaccination?

Most health insurance covers the cost of the HPV vaccine. Ask your insurance company to make sure. The HPV vaccine is part of the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. This program covers the cost of the HPV vaccine. It also covers the cost of other vaccines for free up to age 19 for families without insurance or without enough insurance.


The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: August 29, 2017 Last Revised: August 29, 2017