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Understanding the human papillomavirus vaccine

In 2006, a vaccine became available to protect against human papillomavirus (say: pap-uh-LOH-muh-veye-ruhs), which is often passed through sexual contact. If you haven’t already gotten the vaccine, you might talk to your parents/guardian or doctor about getting it. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the vaccine because it can protect against several types of HPV, which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

Here are some key points about the HPV vaccine:

  • The HPV vaccine works best if you get it before you are ever exposed to the virus. That’s why it’s recommended for girls as young as 11 or 12, even if they haven’t started having sex yet. You can even get the vaccine as young as 9.
  • If you missed getting the vaccine when you were 11 or 12, the CDC still recommends you get it.
  • The vaccine is given as a series of three shots over the course of several months.
  • The vaccine was tested on tens of thousands of people. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it is safe.
  • The vaccine won’t protect you against all types of HPV. It also won’t protect against other STIs. So even if you get the vaccine, use a latex condom to stay safe every time you have sex.
  • The vaccine comes under two brand names. Cervarix helps protect against cervical cancer. Gardasil helps protect against cervical cancer and genital warts. Ask your health care provider which one is right for you.


Content last reviewed October 13, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.