Does the HPV Vaccine Cause Ovarian Failure?

Separating Fact From Fiction

If social media posts about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine have made you nervous, you're not alone. Despite its ability to protect against several types of the cancer-causing virus, uptake on the vaccine lags behind other shots given to preteens.

Teen girl getting HPV vaccine
BURGER/PHANIE / Getty Images

While families choose to opt out of HPV vaccination for many reasons, some have cited stories claiming that the vaccines cause ovarian failure in young women.

Current Reseach

In 2014, researchers in New South Wales, Australia reported that three girls, ages 16 to 18, experienced ovarian failure after receiving the quadrivalent HPV vaccine. This led some anti-vaccine advocates to claim that the vaccines caused the failure.

A 2018 review of studies published in the journal Pediatrics all but dismissed that claim and demonstrated that of the 199,078 women included in the analysis, only one experienced ovarian failure after receiving the HPV vaccine. Some cases were excluded because other causes of ovarian failure were found.

For the vast majority of adolescents, the worst side effect of HPV vaccination is a sore arm and headache. Fainting has also been known to occur. On very rare occasions, a serious whole-body allergy (called anaphylaxis) has been reported in recipients of the vaccine.

Vaccine Testing

It is easy to get swept up in panic stories about drug safety. After all, there have been drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that have been shown in later years to be unsafe. With that said, the process of approval is a long one and generally a good one.

Before a vaccine is ever allowed to be sold in the United States, it first has to go through a series of tests to demonstrate that it is safe and effective. During these pre-licensure clinical trials, the vaccine is tested in thousands of people and researchers carefully look at any differences between those who received the vaccine and those who didn't.

If, and only if, the vaccine is shown to have strong benefits and minimal risks, it can be approved by the FDA for use in the United States. Getting to this point can take years, and many vaccine candidates never make it that far.

Once a vaccine has been released into the market and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) makes recommendations on who should receive it. Researchers meanwhile, continue to verify that the vaccine is safe.

Through systems like the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System and the Vaccine Safety DataLink, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can collect and analyze information on bad things that happen after vaccination to see if there is any reason to believe it is unsafe

In the case of the HPV vaccine, thousands of people from across the planet were included in the pre-market trials, while hundreds of thousands have been included in post-market studies. Research continues to show that the HPV vaccine is overwhelmingly safe and effective at reducing cancer-causing HPV infections.

Vaccination Recommendations

Roughly nine in 10 people in the United States will get HPV at least once in their lives. While most will clear it without even realizing they had it, others will go on to develop cancer. Sadly, there is no way to know beforehand who will get cancer and who won't.

Cervical cancer is the most well known, but HPV can cause at least six different kinds of cancer in both men and women (including anal, penile, vaginal, vulvar, and head and neck cancers). In fact, HPV is believed to be linked to 5% of all cancers worldwide.

HPV vaccination is the best means to protect against the highest risk subtypes of the virus. Despite claims that the vaccine causes infertility, it actually enhances it by avoiding cancer treatments that can affect a woman's ability to ovulate and conceive.

CDC Recommendations

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boys and girls aged 11 or 12 should get the HPV vaccine. Children as young as 9 can also be vaccinated. For adolescents and adults aged 13 to 26 who have not been vaccinated or have not completed the vaccine series, catch-up vaccination is recommended.

Early adolescence is the best time to get vaccinated for several reasons:

  • Because the vaccine can only protect against types the body hasn't encountered yet, it's best to finish the series before even thinking about becoming sexually active.
  • Adolescents are already receiving vaccines against meningitis and pertussis, so it makes sense to give the HPV vaccine at the same time.
  • The vaccine produces a stronger immune response at that age, compared to older ages.

The vaccine is administered in two or three doses, depending on when you start the series. Younger adolescents need only two doses, while those who wait until later in their teen years to start the series will need to get three.

A Word From Verywell 

While an extremely small number of ovarian failures have been reported following HPV vaccination, anti-vaccine proponents have yet to offer any explanation as to how and why the vaccines affect the ovaries.

The distinction between having a relationship with the vaccine—correlation—and causing an adverse effect following vaccination—causation—is an important one. Unfortunately, bad things happen all the time for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, they really are just a coincidence.

That is why it is so critical for researchers to investigate claims, particularly when they affect the public's trust in a drug or vaccine.

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Article Sources
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