What is HPV?

A not-so-fun fact: Virtually every person who is sexually active will get Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) at some point in their life if they do not receive the vaccine. HPV is definitively THE most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, with 79 million people currently infected.  Every year, about 14 million people will be exposed and contract HPV, most of whom are in their late teens or early 20’s. Some strains of HPV can cause cancer, while others can cause warts. Most people don’t know they are infected, but HPV can be passed on even when a person has no signs or symptoms. Eventually, some strains of HPV can lead to cancer, the most common kinds including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, throat and penile cancers.

What is Gardasil 9?

Gardasil 9 is a vaccine that can prevent HPV infection and most cancers and diseases caused by HPV.  Essentially, it’s a vaccine against cancer! Since the vaccine has been in use, cancer and wart-causing HPV infections have dropped 71 percent among teen girls, and 61 percent among young adult women. HPV can also be prevented by limiting the number of sex partners, as well as using condoms consistently and correctly.

Gardasil 9 isn’t required for children attending public school in Montana. Is it even necessary?

A 2016 national study reported that “74% [of physicians] supported some form of school-entry requirement for HPV vaccine.” As of today, three jurisdictions currently require HPV vaccines for school attendance: Rhode Island, Virginia, and District of Columbia.

Is Gardasil 9 safe?

Yes, Gardasil 9 is safe! The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Gardasil 9 for all genders from ages 9 to 45.  The CDC recommends all children receive the vaccine at age 11-12, before they are ever exposed to the virus.  Additionally, the vaccine is more effective when administered at a younger age. The vaccine was studied in clinical trials with more than 15,000 males and females, and over 100 million doses have been distributed since it was licensed.  Ongoing data continue to show the vaccine to be safe and effective!

As with any vaccine, mild side effects and reactions are possible and will go away on their own. Serious reactions are possible, but rare, and the benefits of receiving the vaccine far outweigh any potential risks or side effects. You can learn more about HPV and Gardasil 9 at cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine.html as well as ashasexualhealth.org.

My child isn’t and/or shouldn’t be having sex.

Yes, this vaccine protects your child against a sexually transmitted infection, but this does not mean that your child will start having sex once they have received the vaccine. According to a recent study, “receiving the HPV vaccine is not associated with an increased rate of sexual activity-related outcomes.”

Since cervical cancer is the most common cancer caused by HPV, do I really need to vaccinate my son?

As reported by the CDC, “Every year in the US, over 13,000 men get cancers caused by HPV. The HPV vaccine could prevent most of these cancers from ever developing.”  These cancers are not commonly screened for therefore they may not be detected before they cause health problems.

Additionally, vaccinating your son will help prevent the spread of HPV to any future sexual partners, reducing their partner’s risk of developing these cancers.

Is there any good news?

Australia’s national health care system provided the vaccine as a cost-free program for all school-aged children. Since the start of this program and the increased cervical screenings in older women HPV and cervical cancer has rapidly declined. Australia is on track to eliminate cervical cancer within the next two decades.

Want to help eradicate HPV in the US as well? Then ask your doctor about how the HPV vaccination could protect you, your partner and your children!


Written by Mary Cook and Anna Couch. Mary is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Bridgercare and has a passion for reproductive health, and loves living in Bozeman with her husband and two children. Anna is an intern at Bridgercare, studying writing and gender studies at Montana State University.