The Ideal Age to Get the HPV Vaccine

The HPV vaccine, which is designed to protect against infection from a ubiquitous microbe known as the human papillomavirus (HPV), has become an important part of basic preventive health care for preteens, teenagers, and young adults.

A young woman receiving an HPV vaccination
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

HPV is a virus that can be transmitted through sexual contact of all types, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Infection with HPV typically is classified as a sexually-transmitted disease (STD) and has been linked to a variety of cancers, including cervical, throat, and anal cancer.

The HPV vaccine Gardasil 9 (Human Papillomavirus (HPV) 9-valent Vaccine, Recombinant) is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for children and adults of both sexes age 9 through 45. Two major public health bodies—the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the American Cancer Society (ACS)—offer specific recommendations for HPV vaccination.

It is important to note the HPV vaccine does not prevent the progression of infection in people who have already contracted the virus.

Recommendations for Tweens and Young Adults

Up to 80% of people will get an HPV infection at some point during their lifetime. Given this prevalence, the CDC recommends two doses of HPV vaccination for all 11-to-12-year-olds and notes this practice can protect them before they are ever exposed.

CDC Guidelines for HPV Vaccination

All children should get two shots of the HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12, given six to 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. The vaccine can be given as early as age 9.

The CDC recommends a three-dose series of the HPV vaccine for certain older people who have not completed the early two-dose series:

  • Females through age 26
  • Males through age 21
  • Males through age 26 who 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—for example, those living with HIV infection or HIV/AIDS.

ACS guidelines, on the other hand, recommend doctors begin offering the HPV vaccine earlier—to kids who are 9 or 10—based on the expectation that doing so will help achieve higher on-time vaccination rates, resulting in increased numbers of cancers prevented.

Although men get HPV-related diseases less often than women, the vaccine is recommended for them nonetheless, especially those who have sex with men. Notably, the HPV vaccine has been approved for young men for the prevention of genital warts.

For Adults 27 and Older

Although approved for people up to age 45, the ACIP recommends the vaccine for men and women older than 26 only provisionally, based on evidence that vaccination in this age range likely provides less benefit given older people are likely to be sexually active and therefore may have already been exposed to HPV.

For that reason, the ACIP advises clinicians with patients older than 26 to inform them of the limitations of HPV vaccination prior to giving them the shot. People who have had no or very few sexual partners stand the best chance of benefiting from the HPV vaccine.

On the other hand, the ACS Guidelines do not encourage doctors to discuss the vaccine with people 27 and older, as doing so is unlikely to provide protection from cancer. In addition, there has been a global shortage of HPV vaccine that is expected to continue for several years. Offering the vaccine only to those who are most likely to benefit is an effective way to preserve ample quantities.

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
Was this page helpful?
Article 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.  U. S. Food and Drug Administration. Gardasil 9. Updated 2018 Oct 10.

  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV vaccine schedule and dosing. Updated August 15, 2019.

  3. Saslow D, Andrews KS, Manassaram-Baptiste D, et al. Human papillomavirus vaccination 2020 guideline update: American cancer society guideline adaptation. CA Cancer J Clin. 08 Jul 2020;70(4):281-282. doi:10.3322/caac.21616

  4. Yakely AE, Avni-Singer L, Oliveira CR, t al. Human papillomavirus vaccination and anogenital warts: A systematic review of impact and effectiveness in the united states. Sex Transm Dis. 2019 Apr;46(4):213-220. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000948

  5. Meites E, Szilagyi PG, Chesson HW, et al. Human papillomavirus vaccination for adults: Updated recommendations of the advisory committee on immunization practices. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 16 Aug 2019;68932):698–702. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6832a3