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HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine


The HPV vaccine is cancer prevention 

The HPV vaccines protect against infection from certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cancers of the anus, cervix, mouth and throat, penis, vagina, and vulva, as well as genital warts. There are 2 HPV vaccines available in Canada: Cervarix® (HPV2) and Gardasil®9 (HPV9). The vaccines are approved by Health Canada, with HPV9 approved for use in both sexes, and HPV2 approved for use only in females.
Both vaccines protect against 2 types of HPV that cause about 70% of cases of cervical cancer and 80% of cases of anal cancer. The HPV9 vaccine protects against 5 additional types of HPV that cause 15% to 20% of cervical cancers and 11% of anal cancers in women and 4% in men. The HPV9 vaccine also protects against 2 types of HPV that cause about 90% of cases of genital warts.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

The HPV9 vaccine is recommended for all children in grade 6 to protect them from HPV infections that can cause cancer and genital warts later in life. The vaccine is provided free as part of BC's routine immunization program.

Boys (born in 2006 or later) and girls who did not get the vaccine in grade 6 remain eligible for the free HPV vaccine if they start their vaccine series before their 19th birthday and complete it before their 26th birthday.


Early protection works best

The HPV vaccine is given in grade 6 to protect children long before they are ever exposed to the virus. The vaccine also works better when given sooner because preteens produce more antibodies after HPV vaccination than older teens. 

The HPV9 vaccine is also recommended and provided free to:

  • HIV-positive people 9-26 years of age
  • Transgender people 9-26 years of age
  • Cisgender* males 9 to 26 years of age who:
    • have sex with other men
    • are not yet sexually active but are questioning their sexual orientation
    • are street-involved
  • Cisgender males 9 to 18 years of age in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD)
  • Cisgender males in youth custody services centres
  • Two-Spirit, transgender, and non-binary people 9-26 years of age
The HPV9 vaccine is recommended, but not provided free (unless mentioned above), for:
  • Females 19 to 45 years of age
  • Males 9-26 years of age (unless noted above)
  • Males 27 years of age and older who have sex with men 

The HPV2 vaccine is recommended, but not provided free, for girls and women 9 to 45 years of age.

The HPV vaccines are given as a series of either 2 or 3 doses over a 6 month period. Children who start a series when they are 9 to 14 years of age need 2 doses given at least 6 months apart. People who start a series when they are 15 years of age and older and those with a weakened immune system need 3 doses.

Those not eligible for the free vaccine can buy it at most pharmacies, travel clinics, and some sexual health clinics. Some health plans cover the cost of the HPV vaccine.
It is best to get immunized before becoming sexually active and coming in contact with HPV because the vaccines prevent infection but do not clear it. However, a person can still benefit from immunization if they are already sexually active. This is because the likelihood they have been exposed to all types of HPV contained in the vaccine is low. 
*Cisgender refers to people who feel their gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth; non-trans.

HPV vaccination works

Studies in Canada and other countries with HPV vaccine programs have shown that HPV vaccination is preventing cancer-causing infections, genital warts, and cervical pre-cancers.
In women who have never been infected with HPV, the vaccines prevent almost 100% of cases of cervical cancer caused by the HPV types covered by the vaccines.
The HPV9 vaccine also prevents about:
  • 78% of cases of anal cancers in men caused by the two main types of HPV.
  • 90% to 100% of cases of genital warts in men and women caused by 2 other types of HPV.

HPV vaccine safety

The HPV vaccine is safe. Vaccines are approved for use in Canada only if they meet very strict standards for safety and effectiveness. The HPV vaccine was well studied in clinical trials and was only approved for use in Canada after the studies showed that it was safe and effective. Since approval, millions of doses of HPV vaccines have been given worldwide, and vaccine safety monitoring has continued to show that the HPV vaccine is safe. 

The HPV vaccine is very safe.

More than 200 million doses of the vaccine have been given safely worldwide and over 15 years of monitoring show that the vaccine is very safe and effective. 

HPV vaccine side effects

Like any vaccine or medicine, HPV vaccines can have side effects. Side effects of the HPV vaccine are usually mild and go away in a day or two.
Possible side effects can include: 
  • Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the vaccine was given.
  • Fever.
  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • Nausea.
  • Headache or feeling tired.
  • Muscle or joint pain.
Serious side effects, like a severe allergic reaction, are very rare. 
The benefits of HPV vaccination far outweigh the risk of potential side effects.

Who should not get the HPV vaccine

Speak with your health care provider if you or your child has had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose of HPV vaccine or to any part of the vaccine, including yeast. People who are pregnant should not get the vaccine.
There is no need to delay getting immunized because of a cold or other mild illness. However, if you have concerns speak with your health care provider.

Where to get the HPV vaccine

  • Grade 6 children get the HPV vaccine at school vaccination clinics. If your child missed getting vaccinated at school, you can contact your local health unit to make an appointment to get them vaccinated. 
  • Others eligible for the publicly-funded (free) HPV vaccine can get it from most pharmacies and health units. Some doctors' offices and sexual health clinics also have the vaccine.
  • Those not eligible for the free vaccine can buy it at most pharmacies, travel clinics, and some sexual health clinics. Some health plans cover the cost of the HPV vaccine. 


What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is a very common virus that spreads through intimate skin-to-skin contact. Anyone who has any kind of sexual activity with another person involving oral, genital, or anal contact can get HPV. Sexual intercourse is not necessary to get infected. About 3 out of 4 unvaccinated sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives. 

Some HPV infections can lead to cancer and genital warts

Most often, an HPV infection will clear on its own, but sometimes it doesn't and can cause cancer over time. HPV infections can cause cancers of the cervix, anus, mouth and throat, vagina, vulva, and penis. HPV infections can also cause genital warts. There are many different types of HPV. The types that cause cancer are not the same as the types that cause genital warts.

Every year in BC, about:

  • 200 women will get cervical cancer, and 50 will die from the disease.
  • 6,000 women will develop high-risk changes to the cervix, which are precancerous.
  • Over 450,000 women will undergo Pap tests, and over 14,000 will need further follow-up. Follow-up may include more Pap tests and other procedures to stop cancer of the cervix from developing.
  • 110 people will get anal cancer, and 20 will die from the disease
  • 5,500 people will develop genital warts.


Cancer Prevention

Video courtesy of BC Cancer. 

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We Can Be the First


HPV: Our Family's Story

Audra and her aunt Laura are strong believers in the HPV vaccine, for a good reason: Gisel, Audra's mother and Laura's older sister, died from cervical cancer at only 38.