HPV Vaccine (Gardasil®): A Guide for Parents

Young women's version of this guide

VaccinationThe HPV vaccines (Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®) are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for boys and girls. Gardasil 9® is the newest HPV vaccine that protects against the types of the HPV viruses that cause genital warts and cancer of the anus, rectum, penis, mouth, throat, and oropharynx. The HPV vaccine is approved for ages 9 to 26. The CDC recommends vaccination for boys at ages 11-12 years and between 13 and 21 years if not previously vaccinated. Young men 22-26 years old who are sexually active with males or who have a condition (including HIV) that impacts their immune system should also receive the vaccine (if they were not vaccinated when they were younger.)

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common STI. More than 40 types of HPV are sexually transmitted and can cause infections in the genitals, mouth, and throat. Because there are so many types of HPV, they are referred to by number. For example, 6 and 11 cause approximately 90% of genital warts (flesh colored growths that may appear on the penis or around the anus). In rare cases, the virus can cause cancers of the anus, penis, and oropharynx (back of throat, base of tongue, and tonsils).

How is HPV spread?

HPV is spread through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. It can also be passed on through oral sex with a partner who already has HPV. Using latex condoms during vaginal, anal, and oral sex can help protect against HPV, but the virus can also spread via skin that a condom doesn’t cover.

Is my son at risk of getting HPV?

If your son plans to be sexually active at some point in his life or is currently sexually active, he is at risk for getting HPV, regardless of his race or sexual orientation. In fact, approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. The virus is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men (and women) will get it at some point in their lives.

How can my son prevent getting HPV?

The only sure way your son can prevent getting HPV is to be abstinent, or refrain from sexual contact altogether. If he’s having sexual contact, he can reduce his risk of infection by having a monogamous sexual relationship (having sex with only one person who only has sex with him) and by using condoms 100% of the time. Condoms aren’t perfect because they don’t cover all of the skin in the genital area, but they do lower chances of HPV infection.

A new and very important preventive option are the vaccines Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®.

What are the HPV vaccines?

Two HPV vaccines (Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®) protect against genital warts and anal cancer in males. Gardasil® protects against four types of HPV: 6 and 11, which cause genital warts in men, and types 16 and 18, which have been linked to anal cancer in men. Gardasil 9® protects against 9 types of HPV, including those that can cause cancer and genital warts in men: 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

The HPV vaccine works best for those who have not yet come in contact with these viruses. It is recommended for all 11 and 12 year olds as a routine vaccination. Teen boys who did not start or finish the HPV vaccine series when they were younger should get it now. The CDC recommends young men who weren’t vaccinated before get vaccinated through age 21. The vaccine is also recommended for any man who has sex with men through age 26, and for men with compromised immune systems (including HIV) through age 26, if they did not get HPV vaccine when they were younger.

Based on recent findings, the CDC now recommends that anyone who receives the HPV vaccine before their 15th birthday requires only 1 additional dose, a total of 2 doses (instead of 3). The 2nd dose should be given 6-12 months after the first one. Anyone starting the HPV vaccine series after the age of 15 should receive 3 doses; the 2nd dose should be given 1-2 months after the first dose and the 3rd dose should be given 6 months after the first dose.

In 2017, only 9vHPV (Gardasil 9®) will be available in the United States.

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes. The vaccines are considered safe by FDA standards. It does not contain mercury or thimerosal. Your son cannot get HPV from the vaccines.

Will my son have any side effects from the vaccine?

Side effects are rare; however, some young men who get the vaccine may have pain, swelling, or redness where they got the injection. These temporary discomforts will go away within a few days. In very few cases, people may get a fever, feel dizzy, or feel nauseous. Some people have fainted after receiving the vaccine, so your son may want to sit or lie down for 10-15 minutes after receiving the vaccine.

It’s very uncommon to have side-effects from vaccines. If you think your son might have had a side-effect from a vaccine, talk to his health care provider. You can also call 1-800-822-7967 or visit vaers.hhs.gov.

When should my son get vaccinated?

The vaccine is approved by the FDA for boys and young men ages 9 to 26, and the CDC recommends Gardasil® or Gardasil 9® vaccination start at age 11-12 years old. The best time for your son to get vaccinated is before he has any sexual contact and before he has been exposed to HPV. However, he can still get vaccinated if he’s had prior sexual contact because he might not have been exposed to all types of HPV yet.

Will my insurance cover the vaccine?

Most insurance plans cover the HPV vaccine, but some do not. Call your insurance provider directly to find out. If you pay for the vaccine on your own, each dose is about $130, and 2-3 doses are needed.

There is a program called Vaccines for Children (VFC) that will cover the cost of the vaccine for teens under 19 years of age who are either uninsured, underinsured, on Medicaid or Medicaid eligible, American Indian, or Alaskan Native. There are thousands of sites including hospitals, private and public clinics that provide VFC vaccines. See the VFC quick resource for parents for more information.