Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Last Updated: 
September 2015

What are the HPV vaccines?

The HPV vaccines, Cervarix® (HPV2), and Gardasil® (HPV4), protect against infection from certain types of human papillomaviruses (HPV). Both vaccines protect against infection from HPV types 16 and 18 that cause about 70% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers and other cancers such as cancers of the mouth and throat, penis, vagina, and vulva. The HPV4 vaccine also protects against infection from HPV types 6 and 11 that cause about 90% of cases of genital warts. The vaccines are approved by Health Canada.

Who should get the HPV vaccines?

The HPV4 vaccine is provided free to girls in grade 6. Girls and young women born in 1994 or later who missed getting the HPV4 vaccine may contact their health care provider to get immunized at no cost.

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
  • 12 to 17 years of age in youth custody services centres.

The HPV4 vaccine is recommended, but not provided free, for the following people:

  • 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 for girls and women 9 to 45 years of age. It is not routinely provided for free. 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 men who have never been infected with HPV, the HPV4 vaccine prevents about 85% of cases of anal cancer caused by HPV types 16 and 18. The vaccine also prevents about 90% of cases of genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11.

In women who have never been infected with HPV, the HPV2 and HPV4 vaccines both prevent almost 100% of cases of cancer of the cervix caused by HPV types 16 and 18. The HPV4 vaccine also prevents almost 100% of cases of genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11.

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, fatigue, muscle or joint ache or headache.

It is important to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after getting any vaccine because there is an extremely rare possibility, about 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.

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.

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, or to latex. 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:

  • 175 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. Efforts are first made to seek parental/guardian or representative consent prior to immunization. However, 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

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.

Thanks to our partners and endorsers: