A: Yes! HPV vaccines have been shown to be very safe and effective!
Though side effects can occur, they are typically mild and don’t cause any lasting problems. HPV vaccination reduces the risk of HPV infection, genital warts, cervical pre-cancers, and even cervical cancer!
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a super common virus that is the #1 cause of cervical cancer. About 1 out of 4 adults in the US has HPV and nearly 35,000 people are affected by HPV related cancers each year. HPV vaccines were introduced in 2006 and over 120 million doses have been given in the US alone. This is a sizeable group of folks and gives us lots of good safety and efficacy data. More than 160 clinical trials have looked at these questions.
The biggest and best news: HPV vaccination reduces invasive cervical cancer. When the HPV vaccine was first introduced, it was clear that it lowered HPV infection rates, and everyone was waiting with bated breath to see if cervical cancer rates would decrease too. In 2020, this was confirmed! A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that HPV vaccination significantly reduced the likelihood of cervical cancer, and that risk was even lower in people who were vaccinated before the age of 17 (see link below for the study). This makes the HPV vaccine an honest to goodness vaccine to protect against cancer (which is awesome!).
So, let’s talk safety. The HPV vaccine (including the newest one, Gardasil9) is very safe. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) just recently completed a big systematic review of safety in vaccines. To do this, they looked at a bunch of studies about HPV vaccine safety. They found that there was no evidence of increased risk of autoimmune disease, birth defects, death, fertility problems, seizures, blood clots, or miscarriages (dig through the data at the link below). Prior reviews of older HPV vaccines did not find any increased risk of diabetes, Guillain-Barre syndrome, or blood clots.
As with all vaccines, there are potential side effects. The most common side effects are pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site, dizziness, nausea, and headache. Passing out (called syncope) is more common in adolescents getting this vaccine than other vaccines. That’s why their clinician will have them sit or lie down for about 15 minutes after the HPV vaccine. There are no long-term side effects from fainting, but it certainly isn’t fun, and we don’t want anyone to fall and hurt themselves!
Anaphylaxis, a rare but potentially dangerous allergic reaction, is also possible after the HPV vaccine. It happens to about 3 out of every 1 million doses administered. If anaphylaxis occurs, the healthcare team can quickly identify and treat it.
As with all vaccines, the HPV vaccine has gone through rigorous safety and efficacy trials and continues to be monitored by the robust safety system in place.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a nice summary of HPV vaccine safety and effectiveness. What could be more fun than reviewing vaccine safety data on a lazy summer day?