How to Get the HPV Vaccine

Your options if you're uninsured or your plan doesn't cover it

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is a series of two or three shots given over a six- to 12-month period to help prevent HPV infection. Of the three HPV vaccines licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), just one—Gardasil 9—is available and used today.

The HPV vaccine is most commonly used for adolescents aged 11-12, but can potentially be given to anyone aged 9 to 45. For those aged 13-17, Gardasil 9 is most often given in a doctor's office, but can also be administered in other healthcare facilities like clinics, health departments, hospitals, and pharmacies.

Girl getting HPV vaccine
Getty Images/BSIP/UIG

Although many health insurance companies will pay for the vaccine, coverage can vary among providers and policies based on a variety of factors. If you find yourself without coverage for the HPV vaccine, there are a few options you can explore to get it at low or even no cost.

This article reviews what they are and why HPV vaccination is so important.

Why HPV Vaccination Is Needed

Most sexually active people will encounter HPV in their lifetime—usually by the time they reach their 30s. While many cases go away on their own without incident, some do not.

A 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated an average of 34,800 new cancer diagnoses each year can be attributed to prior HPV infection. These include:

If current HPV vaccination recommendations were followed, it is estimated that 92% of these HPV-related cancers could be avoided.

Approximately 150 different strains of HPV have been identified—with those linked to cancers considered "high-risk" strains and those linked to genital warts classified as "low-risk."

The vaccine works by targeting both high- and low-risk strains. It is recommended for people of certain age groups, regardless of sex.

HPV Vaccination Recommendations

The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 to 12. The vaccine can also be given to anyone 26 and under who has not been adequately vaccinated and children as young as 9, if needed. Some people up to age 45 are also eligible.

Access to HPV Vaccination

You can get the HPV vaccine from a pediatrician, family doctor, or gynecologist's office.

However, if you do not have such access and/or are uninsured or underinsured, there are programs run by both the U.S. government and private companies to help you afford vaccines for preventable diseases.

Government Access Programs

The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program provides free access to vaccines recommended for children by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)—including HPV vaccines.

Children age 19 or younger are eligible for vaccines through VFC if they meet the following requirements:

  • Medicaid-eligible
  • Uninsured or underinsured
  • American Indian or Alaska Native

For those 21 and older, Medicaid vaccine coverage is an optional benefit and decided on a state-by-state basis. Today, 39 states and the District of Columbia cover HPV vaccination for this older age group.

With respect to private insurance, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires most insurers cover vaccinations recommended by ACIP, of which the HPV vaccine is one.

Most comprehensive health insurers will cover the HPV vaccines without cost-sharing, but short-term health insurance policies may not. Your health provider can help you work through options.

Merck Vaccine Patient Assistance Program

The pharmaceutical company that manufactures the vaccine also has a vaccine assistance program to cover the cost of the vaccine itself. To qualify, you must:

  • Be between 19 and 45 years of age
  • Have no health insurance
  • Live in the United States (although you don't have to be a U.S. citizen)
  • Have an annual income at or less than 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)

Merck Vaccine Program Income Eligibility Requirements

In 2021, you could qualify for the Merck assistance program if you made $51,520 or less as an individual, $69,680 or less as a couple, or $106,000 or less as a family of four.

Merck will also take special circumstances into account and makes exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Do not let the income qualifications deter you from applying. You may still be approved based on your specific situation.

For more information, call Merck Patient Assistance Program at (800) 727-5400 or visit the company's website.

Other Options

If you do not qualify for assistance elsewhere, there are alternative avenues to explore, including:

  • Planned Parenthood: Federal, state, and private grants have allowed many Planned Parenthood offices around the United States to offer the HPV vaccine for free or at a reduced cost. Call your local Planned Parenthood for more information.
  • College or universities: Many such institutions provide the HPV vaccine to students in their medical clinics. Check your campus clinic for more information.
  • Local health department: Your local health department may offer free or reduced-cost HPV vaccinations, depending on any grants and funds your state receives from governmental, non-governmental, and private organizations. You can find contact information for your local office on the National Association of County and City Health Officials' website.

Summary

Many of the HPV strains that cause cancer can be prevented with the HPV vaccine. Gardisil 9, the only US-approved HPV vaccine, can be given in many different medical settings. Multiple doses are needed for the best protection against HPV. Check with your healthcare provider to ensure you receive all the recommended doses.

A Word From Verywell

Even though the HPV vaccine may be fully covered by insurance or financial assistance programs, be aware that you may still have to pay for the office visit. Ask about any associated costs before getting the vaccine. In some cases, the fee may be waived.

HPV Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who is eligible for a free HPV vaccine?

    Free HPV vaccine requirements will depend on the rules of the specific assistance program. People without insurance or who are low-income may qualify for free HPV vaccines. Talk with your provider about any concerns you have about the cost of the vaccine.

  • How much does HPV vaccination cost?

    According to the manufacturer, a dose of Gardasil 9 is about $250 for the medication. There may also be fees from the healthcare professional who administers the injection. However, insurance and some financial assistance programs may help to reduce your actual cost.

  • Who pays for the HPV vaccine?

    Many health insurance programs cover the cost of the HPV vaccine. Check with your policy to see if that is true for you. There are also some financial assistance programs that help to pay for some or all of the cost of HPV vaccines.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Cancer Institute. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.

  2. Meites E, Szilagyi PG, Chesson HW, Unger ER, Romero JR, Markowitz LE. Human papillomavirus vaccination for adults: updated recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(32):698-702. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6832a3

  3. Lu P jun, Yankey D, Fredua B, et al. National and state-specific estimates of settings of receiving human papillomavirus vaccination among adolescents in the United StatesJournal of Adolescent Health. 2021;69(4):597-603. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2021.03.005

  4. Satterwhite CL, Torrone E, Meites E, et al. Sexually transmitted infections among us women and men: prevalence and incidence estimates, 2008Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2013;40(3):187-193. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0b013e318286bb53

  5. Senkomago V, Henley SJ, Thomas CC, Mix JM, Markowitz LE, Saraiya M. Human papillomavirus–attributable cancers — United States, 2012–2016MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(33):724-728. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6833a3

  6. Kamolratanakul S, Pitisuttithum P. Human papillomavirus vaccine efficacy and effectiveness against cancer. Vaccines. 2021;9(12):1413. doi:10.3390/vaccines9121413

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About VFC.

  8. Kaiser Family Foundation. The HPV vaccine: Access and use in the US.

  9. Merck Helps. Gardasil 9.

  10. Gardasil-9. Cost information.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed