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What is a Genital Warts Vaccine?

By Dorothy Bland
Updated May 17, 2024
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The genital warts vaccine refers to a vaccine that protects against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease. More than 100 strains of the virus have been identified, and certain strains are responsible for causing genital warts, cervical cancer, and some other forms of cancer in the genital areas. Currently, there are two vaccines on the market that protect against HPV, Gardasil and Cervarix.

The Gardasil vaccine, manufactured by Merck & Co., was the first vaccine against genital warts to be approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2006. Cervarix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, was approved in 2009. The HPV vaccine from each is designed without a live virus; instead, virus-like particles trigger the immune system to produce antibodies that protect against the infection.

Both Gardasil and Cervarix provide protection against HPV-16 and HPV-18, the strains of HPV that cause the majority of cervical cancer. These strains can also cause anal cancer in males and several other HPV-related cancers in females, including cancer of the cervix. Gardasil also vaccinates against HPV-6 and HPV-11, the two types of the disease responsible for the majority of genital warts. Either vaccine is administered in three doses over a six-month period. For females, it is typically recommended that the same brand be used for all doses.

Gardasil has been approved for use in females and males between 9 and 26 years of age. Cervarix has been deemed appropriate for treating females between the ages of 10 and 25. These vaccines may also be used in older women who are not yet sexually active or for an off-label use at the discretion of a physician. Although the genital warts vaccine is most effective when given before sexual activity occurs, research suggests that vaccination can still provide some protection to individuals already having sex.

Like all other vaccines, there is the possibility that those taking the genital warts vaccine may have a negative response. Common side effects that have been reported include nausea, mild fevers, and soreness in the muscle where the shot was given. Usually after receiving the shot, patients will be asked to wait in their doctor’s office for about 15 minutes so they can be monitored for fainting or other adverse effects.

A severe allergic reaction to a genital warts vaccine is considered unlikely. One could occur, however, in individuals allergic to any of the individual ingredients featured in the vaccines. Gardasil, for instance, contains yeast, and those with known allergies to yeast will generally not be able to take this vaccine against genital warts. Cervarix, on the other hand, contains latex, which can also be an allergy trigger for some. If an individual who has received a genital warts vaccine reports developing difficulty breathing or hives, he or she may be suffering from a severe allergic reaction and should normally pursue emergency medical attention.

A genital warts vaccine cannot provide treatment for existing HPV infections or treat any other sexually transmitted diseases. Therefore, those who have received the vaccine and are sexually active will still need to practice safe sex to avoid receiving a sexually transmitted disease. Women should also continue to receive pap smears for early detection of other strains of HPV because the cervical cancer vaccine is not effective for all HPV strains known to cause cervical cancer.

Usually, health insurance will cover the cost of the genital warts vaccine. Uninsured individuals may be able to get the vaccine at no cost through federally funded programs. Vaccines are generally available from university medical centers, primary care physicians, and other health care centers.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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