Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Last Updated: 
October 2016
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What are the HPV vaccines?

The HPV vaccines protect against infection from certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause genital warts and cancers of the anus, cervix, mouth and throat, penis, vagina, and vulva. Health Canada has approved 3 HPV vaccines: Cervarix® (HPV2), Gardasil® (HPV4), and Gardasil®9 (HPV9).

All 3 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 about 15% to 20% of cervical cancers and 11% of anal cancers in women and 4% in men. The HPV4 and HPV9 vaccines also protect against 2 types of HPV that cause about 90% of cases of genital warts.

Who should get the HPV vaccines?

Beginning in September 2016, the HPV9 vaccine will be provided free to girls in grade 6. The HPV9 vaccine replaces the HPV4 vaccine which was previously provided as part of the school-based immunization program.

The HPV9 vaccine is also provided free to females who are 9 to 26 years of age who are infected with HIV.

The HPV4 vaccine is provided free to girls and young women born in 1994 to 2004 who have not received the vaccine. Contact your health care provider to get immunized.

The HPV4 vaccine is also provided free to males who are at increased risk of HPV infection. This includes males:

  • 9 to 26 years of age who:
    • have sex with men, including those who may not yet be sexually active and are questioning their sexual orientation;
    • are street involved;
    • are infected with HIV;
  • 9 to 18 years of age in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development; and
  • in youth custody services centres.

In addition, the HPV4 and HPV9 vaccines are recommended, but not provided free, for the following individuals:

  • adult women up to 45 years of age;
  • boys and men 9 to 26 years of age; and
  • men 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 HPV2 vaccine is not currently approved for use in boys or men.

The HPV vaccines are given as either 2 or 3 doses over a 6 month period. Children who are 9 to 14 years of age need 2 doses given at least 6 months apart. People 15 years of age and older need 3 doses.

Those not eligible for free HPV vaccine can purchase it at most pharmacies and travel clinics.

It is best to get immunized before becoming sexually active and coming in contact with HPV; however, people who are sexually active may still benefit from the vaccines. The vaccines do not treat HPV infections.

What are the benefits of the HPV vaccines?

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 HPV4 and HPV9 vaccines prevent about 78% of cases of anal cancers in men caused by 2 types of HPV. These two vaccines also prevent about 90% to 100% of cases of genital warts in men and women that are caused by 2 other types of HPV.

It is important for women to get regular Pap tests once they become sexually active because the HPV vaccine protects against most but not all cancers of the cervix.

What are the possible reactions after the vaccines?

Common reactions to the vaccines may include soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given. Fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle or joint ache may also occur.

Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol®) or ibuprofen* (e.g. Advil®) can be given for fever or soreness. ASA (e.g. Aspirin®) should not be given to anyone under 18 years of age due to the risk of Reye Syndrome.
*Ibuprofen should not be given to children under 6 months of age without first speaking to your health care provider.

For more information on Reye Syndrome, see HealthLinkBC File #84 Reye Syndrome.

It is important to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after getting any vaccine because there is an extremely rare possibility, less than 1 in a million, of a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This may include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue, or lips. Should this reaction occur, your health care provider is prepared to treat it. Emergency treatment includes administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) and transfer by ambulance to the nearest emergency department. If symptoms develop after you leave the clinic, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.

It is important to always report serious or unexpected reactions to your health care provider.

Who should not get the HPV vaccines?

Speak with your health care provider if you or your child have had a life threatening reaction to a previous dose of HPV vaccine or to any component of the vaccine, including yeast. Women who are pregnant should not get the HPV 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.

What is HPV?

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Three out of 4 sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives. 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. The more sexual partners you have the higher the risk of being infected with HPV. Men who have sex with men are also at higher risk of HPV infection.

What happens when you are infected with HPV?

Most people infected with HPV do not show any signs or symptoms and can pass the virus on to others without even knowing it. Most often an HPV infection will clear on its own. For some people, HPV will not go away and cells infected with the virus can become cancerous over time.

Every year in B.C. approximately:

  • 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 500,000 women will undergo Pap tests and over 20,000 will need further follow-up which may include additional 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.

Mature Minor Consent

It is recommended that parents or guardians and their children discuss consent for immunization. Children under the age of 19, who are able to understand the benefits and possible reactions for each vaccine and the risk of not getting immunized, can legally consent to or refuse immunizations. For more information on mature minor consent see HealthLinkBC File #119 The Infants Act, Mature Minor Consent and Immunization.

For More Information

For more information about HPV and genital warts, see HealthLinkBC File #101a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection and Genital Warts.

For more information on immunizations, visit ImmunizeBC at

ImmunizeBC logo BCCDC logo

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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