The Ideal Age to Get the HPV Vaccine

Should older women get the vaccine?

Young adult getting a vaccine shot.
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The HPV vaccine, which is designed to protect against infection from a ubiquitous organism known as the human papillomavirus, has become an important part of basic health care for kids and young adults. HPV is a virus that can be transmitted through sexual contact of all types, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Infection with HPV has been linked to a variety of cancers, including cervical, throat, and anal cancer.

CDC Recommendation

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "HPV infection is easily acquired, even with only one sex partner. That is why it is important to get the HPV vaccine before any sexual contact takes place. Also, response to the vaccine is better at this age than at older ages."

Currently, the HPV vaccine Gardasil 9 is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for both males and females ages 9 through 45. But the CDC generally does not recommend it for males over 21 or females over 26. Here's what adults should know about when you should get it and how effective it might be.

For Tweens and Young Adults

The CDC has official guidelines for the HPV vaccine, which is given in two or three separate doses.

CDC Guidelines: All kids who are 11 or 12 should get two shots of HPV vaccine 6-12 months apart. Adolescents who get the vaccine less than five months apart will need a third dose. Anyone who gets the vaccine over age 14 should have three doses.

This vaccine can be given as early as age 9. It is also recommended as a 3-dose series for the following people who have not completed the early 2-dose series:

  • Females through 26 years of age
  • Males through 21 years of age, or through 26 years of age if they identify as gay or bisexual or intend to have sex with other men.

In addition, the HPV vaccine is recommended through age 26 for young adults who are immunocompromised from conditions such as HIV.

One reason HPV vaccination is focused on teens and young adults is that the virus is so common. By the time most people are 26, they probably will have already been exposed to the types of HPV covered by the HPV jab. Initially, the vaccine was also age-limited because scientists hadn't spent as much time testing the efficacy of the HPV in older people to see if it worked well enough for approval. That research is ongoing, and some recent studies have shown positive vaccination effects in older women.

As for men, they do get HPV-related diseases but less frequently. Still, scientists have decided that vaccinating men is cost effective. This is in part because vaccinating young men helps protect any women they might have sex with as well as the men themselves. Additionally, the HPV vaccine has been approved for young men for the prevention of genital warts.

For Older Adults

If you're a man over 21 or woman over 26 and would like to get the HPV vaccine, it won't be impossible but you'll probably have to do a bit of legwork to find a doctor willing to give it to you. One place to start is your local Planned Parenthood clinic. Call first as policy varies state-by-state and among individual clinics. 

If you are an older person getting the HPV shot, your experience probably won't be the same as a younger person. In particular, the vaccine cost (which is substantial) may come out of your pocket.

Your physician may be willing to give you the HPV vaccine, as it is approved by the FDA up to age 45. However, because CDC has not routinely recommended it for males over 21 or females over 26, it's likely your insurance will not cover the shot. Insurance coverage is typically triggered by a CDC recommendation, not by the FDA approval alone. The vaccine costs approximately $215 per shot, or about $650 for the three-shot series—on top of the what your doctor charges for the office visit.

And as already noted, even if you get the vaccine it may not be as effective for you as for a younger person. It's most likely to be of benefit if you've had no or very few sex partners. Even so, part of being an adult is choosing how you balance your risks, even if it means covering the HPV vaccine cost, for yourself.

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
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