What Parents Should Know About the HPV Vaccines

Why should my child get the HPV vaccine?

Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause several cancers. HPV infection can’t be treated, but a vaccine can prevent it. The virus is so common, about 4 out of 5 people will 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.

HPV vaccination can help prevent:

  • Cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women
  • Penile cancer in men
  • Throat cancers in men and women
  • Anal cancer in men and women
  • 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. The HPV vaccine can reduce the risk of 6 different types of cancer. That is why it is important that all children get vaccinated against HPV.   

When should my child get the HPV vaccine?

HPV vaccination is recommended at age 11 or 12, before a child is exposed to HPV. Your child can start getting vaccinated as early as age 9. It is best to complete the series by your child's 13th birthday. 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. Children who start the vaccine before their 15th birthday will only need two shots, with 6 to 12 months between shots.

Children who get the first shot in the HPV vaccine series at age 15 or older and those who have weakened immune systems will need 3 shots of the HPV vaccine. The 3 shots will be given as a series over 6 months.

Does the vaccine have side effects? Is it safe?

The HPV vaccine is safe. The most common side effects from HPV vaccination are mild and might include: fever, headache, and pain and redness in the arm where the shot was given.

Sometimes children and teens faint after getting a shot, including the HPV vaccine. Sitting or lying down when getting a shot, and staying in that position for about 15 minutes afterwards, can help prevent fainting.

Children and teens with an allergy to yeast or with an allergy to any other component of the vaccine that causes anaphylaxis should not receive the HPV vaccine.

Will my health insurance cover the vaccination?

Most health insurance covers the cost of the HPV vaccine series. 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.

To learn more about human papillomavirus, see HPV Vaccines and HPV and HPV testing.

To learn more about how HPV vaccination helps prevent cancer, visit Mission: HPV Cancer Free


The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified 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: January 29, 2018