The Basics: Overview
All pre-teens need 2 shots of the HPV vaccine when they are age 11 or 12.
What is HPV?
HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common infection that can cause cancer. Almost 80 million people in the United States have HPV. That's about 1 out of 4 Americans.
HPV infections can cause:
- Cervical cancer
- Cancer inside the vagina (vaginal cancer) or around the opening of the vagina (vulvar cancer)
- Cancer of the penis (penile cancer)
- Cancer of the anus (anal cancer)
- Cancer of the back of the throat (oropharyngeal cancer)
- Warts in the genital area
The good news is that the HPV vaccine can prevent many of these diseases. Learn more about HPV.
The Basics: Recommended Ages
When does my child need to get the HPV vaccine?
Doctors recommend that all children get 2 shots of the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12, but your child can get it as early as age 9. Doctors give the 2 shots 6 to 12 months apart.
Keep in mind that the HPV vaccine works best if your child gets it at the recommended age. And — like with other vaccines — kids have the best protection when they get all their shots on schedule.
What if my child is older than age 12?
It’s not too late to protect your child. Teens who didn't get the HPV vaccine when they were younger can still get it now.
Teens ages 13 to 14 need 2 shots 6 to 12 months apart — just like kids ages 11 to 12. Teens and adults who get their first shot of the vaccine after their 15th birthday will need 3 shots spread out over 6 months.
Young adults can get the HPV vaccine, too. Everyone can get the vaccine through age 26 — and some adults ages 27 to 45 may decide to get HPV shots after talking with their doctor. But it's still best for your child to get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12.
The Basics: Safety and Side Effects
Is the HPV vaccine safe?
Yes, the vaccine is very safe. It's recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For more information about the HPV vaccine, check out:
- Vaccine (Shot) for Human Papillomavirus
- Reasons to Get HPV Vaccine
- HPV: Resource for Parents
- HPV Vaccination is Safe and Effective
- HPV Vaccine Information for Young Women
- HPV and Men — Fact Sheet
What are the possible side effects of the HPV vaccine?
The most common side effects are pain, redness, or swelling near where the shot was given. Other common side effects are a fever, nausea (upset stomach), headache, and feeling tired.
Some pre-teens and teens may faint after getting any vaccine, including the HPV vaccine. It's a good idea to have your child sit or lie down while getting the shot — and for 15 minutes afterward.
Keep in mind that the benefits of the HPV vaccine far outweigh the risk of side effects.
Take Action: See a Doctor
Help protect your child’s health with the HPV vaccine.
Schedule a doctor's visit for your child.
Doctors will usually give the first HPV shot during your child’s yearly checkup at age 11 or 12. But your child can get the shots at any doctor's visit. Remember, it’s always a good idea to check with your child’s doctor to make sure they’re getting all the recommended vaccines.
Make sure your child gets their HPV shots at the recommended times.
It’s important for your child to get the HPV shots on schedule. To make sure you stay on track, schedule appointments for any remaining shots on the day your child gets the first one.
Take Action: Cost and Insurance
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover recommended vaccines for kids. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get your child's HPV vaccine at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.
Your child may also qualify for free or low-cost health insurance through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Learn about coverage options for your family.
If you don't have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost HPV shots for your child.
- Find out if your child qualifies for free vaccines
- Find a free or low-cost vaccination program in your state
- Find a health center near you and ask about the HPV vaccine
To learn more, check out these resources:
Content last updated October 7, 2021
This information on the HPV vaccine was adapted from materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health Communication Science Office
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention