The Difference Between Gardasil and Cervarix

And can you choose which one you get?

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If you or your child is due to get the HPV vaccine, a shot that helps to protect against a variety of strains of a ubiquitous organism called human papillomavirus, you may have heard there are two brands of the vaccine: Gardasil and Cervarix. Are they very different? And can you choose which you get?

Yes and not exactly. The two vaccines do protect against different strains of HPV (there are hundreds), a virus that is passed from person to person during all types of sexual contact, including intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex, and is linked to several forms of cancer. Not all strains of HPV are associated with these diseases, however, which is why HPV vaccines have been designed to zero in on the ones that are most aggressive—HPV 16 and 18, according to the American Cancer Society.

Do You Have a Choice?

Regarding the question of choosing which shot you get, that depends. For a few years both Gardasil, which is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Merck, and Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), were offered in the United States. However, Cervarix wasn't able to keep up with Gardasil in terms of sales, and so in late 2016 GSK stopped making it in the U.S. It's still available in other countries, including those that make up Europe, however. Cervarix also is the first and only HPV vaccine to be approved in China.

At the same time, it's important to note that when you hear the name Gardasil, the vaccine being referred to isn't the original one that made its debut in 2007. The original Gardasil was developed to protect against four strains of HPV (why it was referred to as a quadrivalent vaccine). In December 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new version of Gardasil that protects against nine strains of HPV. It's officially called Gardasail-9, but it's likely your doctor will simply say he's giving you a dose of Gardasil when you go in for your shot.

Since the quadrivalent form of Gardasil isn't available any longer, the comparisons that follow are of Gardasil-9 and Cervarix.

Gardasil-9

The HPV strains it protects against: HPV 6, 11, 16, 19, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. The original homed in on HPV 6, 11, 16, and 18; HPV 16 and HPV 18 are the two most aggressive ones, and the only strains that Cervarix is focuses on (see below).

One thing to note: There is data to suggest that Gardasil-9 and Cervarix may offer cross-protection against other HPV strains; however, they do not protect against any you already may have been infected with.

Dosing schedule: Gardasil-9 is given in three separate doses over the course of six months. The second shot is given two months after the first, and the last dose is given four months after that. It's important to get all three shots for the vaccine to have maximum efficacy.

Who it's for: On its website, the FDA states that Gardasil-9 is indicated for girls and women ages  to prevent cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancer; and genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11, as well as a number of precancerous lesions. It's also indicated in boys and men ages 9 through 26 for preventing anal cancer caused by HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58, as well as genital warts and precancerous anal lesions.

Cervarix

The HPV strains it protects against: HPV 16 and 18

Dosing schedule: Like Gardasil-9, Cervarix is given in three doses—the second one month after the first and the third five months after that. All three shots are necessary to get the most protection.

Who it's for: Cervarix is FDA-approved for girls and women ages 9 to 25 to prevent cervical cancer. 

Safety Issues and/or Side Effects

One of the issues that often comes up in discussions of any of the HPV vaccines is whether or not they're safe. All three vaccines can have mild to moderate side effects such as pain and redness at the injection site, as well as headaches, stomach aches, and other full-body symptoms. But otherwise they're considered to be quite safe.

Although more serious side effects have been reported to the vaccine adverse event reporting system from people who've received the HPV shot, these have been shown not to have been related to the vaccine. have, by and large, not been shown to be vaccine-related, and the reports of vaccine-linked fatalities appear to be unfounded.

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Article Sources
  • American Cancer Society. "FDA Approves Gardasil 9 HPV Vaccine." Jan 8, 2015.
  • European Medicines Agency. "Cervarix." EPAR Summary for the Public. June 2016.
  • Petrosky E, Bocchini JA Jr, Hariri S, Chesson H, Curtis CR, Saraiya M, Unger ER, Markowitz LE; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Use of 9-valent Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine: Updated HPV Vaccination Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices." MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015 Mar 27;64(11):300-4. PubMed PMID: 25811679.
  • Reuters. "China Approves Use of GSK Vaccine Cervarix for Cervical Cancer." July 18, 2016
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Vaccines, Blood & Biologies: Gardasil 9." Feb 5, 2018.