Gardasil vs. Cervarix for HPV Vaccination

Can you choose which one you get?


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In This Article

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 that there are two brands available: Gardasil and Cervarix. But you may be wondering how they differ and if you can choose which one you get?

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.

Making the 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. 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 is also 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 (which is 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 Gardasil-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.


Strain Protection

The HPV strains it protects against include HPV 6, 11, 16, 19, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. The original honed 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 focused 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. The HPV vaccine can be given in two doses for younger individuals but is always three doses for anyone older than 14.

Who It's For

On its website, the FDA states that Gardasil-9 is indicated for girls and women ages 9 to 45 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 45 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.


Strain Protection

The HPV strains it protects against includes HPV 16 and 18.

Dosing Schedule

Like Gardasil-9, Cervarix is given in three doses—the second dose one month after the first, and the third dose 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/Side Effects

One of the issues that often comes up in discussions of any HPV vaccine is whether or not it's safe. All three vaccines can have mild to moderate side effects, such as pain and redness at the injection site as well as headaches, stomachaches, 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 to not have been related to the vaccine and any reports of vaccine-linked fatalities appear to be unfounded.

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Article Sources
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  1. Toft L, Tolstrup M, Müller M, et al. Comparison of the immunogenicity of Cervarix® and Gardasil® human papillomavirus vaccines for oncogenic non-vaccine serotypes HPV-31, HPV-33, and HPV-45 in HIV-infected adults. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2014;10(5):1147–1154. doi:10.4161/hv.27925

  2. American Sexual Health Association. FDA approves a new HPV vaccine.

  3. Dosage and administration for GARDASIL 9. Updated October 2019.

  4. Cervarix dosage. Updated January 14, 2019.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Questions about HPV vaccine safety. Updated December 11, 2019.

Additional Reading
  • American Cancer Society. "FDA Approves Gardasil 9 HPV Vaccine." Jan 8, 2015.
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Vaccines, Blood & Biologies: Gardasil 9." Feb 5, 2018.
  • Reuters. "China Approves Use of GSK Vaccine Cervarix for Cervical Cancer." July 18, 2016
  • 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.