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Does the HPV Vaccine Help If You Are Already Infected?

Written on October 26, 2023 by Gillian (Gigi) Singer, MPH, Sexuality Educator & Certified Sexologist. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Introduction to HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in all of the United States, affecting 79 million people every year. HPV comes in many strains, or variations, and the symptoms and associated risks can differ depending on the specific strain you have. These strains are categorized into high- and low-risk groups. Although symptoms are generally rare for both categories, high-risk strains can increase the chances of developing cervical and other cancers. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own within two years without health problems. When HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems such as genital warts and cancer.[1]

To protect yourself and others from HPV transmission, it's crucial to understand how the virus spreads and to implement safety measures that reduce the risk of transmission.

So, does the HPV vaccine help if you are already infected? Continue reading to learn more about the HPV vaccine and its efficacy for someone who may already be infected with HPV.

The HPV Vaccine

Good news! There are actually several vaccines available to protect against HPV. The most commonly used HPV vaccines are Gardasil® 9 and Cervarix®. These vaccines target the most common high-risk and low-risk HPV types/strains and are recommended for both people assigned male and female at birth. The HPV vaccine provides long-term protection against the targeted HPV types, reducing your risk of HPV-related diseases like cervical cancer and genital warts.

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Who Needs the Vaccine?

Ideally, the HPV vaccine is to be administered before someone becomes sexually active, as it provides protection against the targeted HPV strains. It is essential for all individuals, regardless of assigned sex at birth, to get vaccinated to reduce their risk of HPV-related diseases.

The CDC recommends that children 11-12 years old should get two doses of HPV vaccine, given 6 to 12 months apart. HPV vaccines can be administered starting at age 9. Those who start the HPV vaccine series on or after their 15th birthday need three doses, given over 6 months.[2]

Getting the Vaccine

Getting the HPV vaccine is a straightforward process. Here's what you can typically expect when you receive the HPV vaccine:

  1. Consultation: Before receiving the vaccine, you may have a brief consultation with a healthcare provider. They will take your medical history if they do not already have it and discuss the vaccine, its benefits, and potential side effects.
  2. Injection: The HPV vaccine is administered as a series of shots. Depending on the specific vaccine you're receiving (e.g., Gardasil® 9 or Cervarix®), you may require either two or three doses.
  3. Follow-up: When getting the vaccine, you'll need to return for additional doses as recommended by your healthcare provider. Your provider will help you schedule appointments according to the appropriate timing guidelines.
  4. Keep your records: It's important to keep a record of your vaccination, noting the date of each dose and the vaccine type you received. This will help you stay on schedule for the required follow-up doses and be a reference for you in the future.

While getting the HPV vaccine may involve momentary discomfort or be a hassle initially, the potential health benefits in terms of preventing HPV-related diseases outweigh any discomfort.

Can the HPV Vaccine Help If You're Already Infected?

What about those who are already infected? Can the HPV vaccine protect or help them? The short answer is yes, but with some important limitations.[3]

The HPV vaccine is not a treatment for existing HPV infections as it cannot cure the virus, nor can it clear the virus from your system. That said, it can still provide some benefits. For example, it can still protect a person from other high-risk types of HPV and prevent further infections.

Second, for those who are already infected, the HPV vaccine can still be effective at preventing genital warts often caused by low-risk strains of HPV. For those assigned female at birth, the vaccine offers some protection and reduces cervical lesions and genital warts.[4]

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  1. STD Facts - Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm. Published April 12, 2022. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  2. HPV vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine-for-hpv.html. August 16, 2023. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  3. What I tell every patient about the HPV vaccine. ACOG. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/experts-and-stories/the-latest/what-i-tell-every-patient-about-the-hpv-vaccine. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  4. By the way, doctor: Should I get the HPV vaccine if I’m already infected? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/by_the_way_doctor_should_i_get_the_hpv_vaccine_if_im_already_infected. March 1, 2008. Accessed October 12, 2023.
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