The HPV vaccination significantly reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer and other cancers caused by the HPV virus. That is why vaccination is officially recommended for girls and boys. We answer here who should be vaccinated, when the ideal time is for it and whether the health insurance companies bear the costs.
HPV viruses (human papillomavirus) of the high risk type (especially 16 and 18) can lead to various types of cancer such as cervical cancer. Low-risk viruses (especially 6 and 11) cause genital warts. Almost all people who are sexually active will come into contact with the HPV virus during their lifetime. For cancer prevention, the HPV vaccination for girls and boys has therefore been included in the vaccination recommendations of the Robert Koch Institute. The vaccination is most beneficial if it was carried out before the first sexual contact.
Overview of questions:
Who and at what age should be vaccinated against cervical cancer?
The Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) of the Robert Koch Institute recommends HPV vaccination for all girls and boys between the ages of nine and 14 if possible before their first sexual contact. The parents should decide when exactly the vaccination is carried out. Ideally, the girl or boy will be vaccinated before engaging in sexual activity. This is the only way to prevent infection with HPV viruses, as this is already possible with the first sexual contact. Missed vaccinations against HPV should be made up for by the age of 17 at the latest.
Obstetricians and gynecologists also recommend HPV vaccination for women after conization. A conization is performed after a conspicuous Pap smear, i.e. cell changes on the cervix. Affected women are at an increased risk of contracting the human papillomavirus again, for example through an infected partner. Furthermore, women who are already sexually active can still benefit from the HPV vaccination.
How many cervical cancer vaccinations are necessary?
In order to achieve as complete a vaccination protection as possible against HPV viruses, two individual vaccinations must be carried out every six months. However, this only applies up to the age of 14 years and with a minimum interval of five months between the individual vaccinations. Adolescents aged 15 and over and adults must receive three doses of the vaccine six months apart. It is recommended to always vaccinate with the same preparation and not to switch to a different manufacturer. The HPV vaccination is given by syringe in the upper arm.
What is the cost of the HPV vaccination?
The cost of the vaccination for boys and girls up to the age of 17 is borne by the health insurances, since it is recommended by the German vaccination commission and rated as useful.
Adult women who would like to be vaccinated usually have to pay the costs themselves. A vaccination dose costs around 160 euros; adults need up to three vaccination doses. Women should ask their health insurance company whether the costs will be covered in individual cases.
What vaccines are there?
There are two different vaccines on the market in Germany: the dual vaccine Cervarix® and the nine-fold vaccine Gardasil 9®. The dual vaccine protects against HPV types 16 and 18. These are considered to be primarily responsible for the development of cervical cancer and its precursors. Less often they cause cancer precursors or cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis and anus as well as in the oropharynx. The nine-fold vaccine also protects against HPV types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58, which have also been identified as carcinogenic. It also protects against HPV 6 and 11, which cause genital warts.
How long does the vaccination last and how safe is it?
There are still no generally valid values for how long the vaccination protection exists. In studies, there was still protection against HPV 16 and 18 even twelve years after vaccination. The antibodies are significantly higher after vaccination than after an HPV infection. Experts believe that the vaccine will last over 20 years.
A large study from Sweden in 2020 showed that women who received the HPV vaccine before age 17 had an 88 percent lower risk of cervical cancer than unvaccinated women. The study included 1.5 million girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 30.
The vaccination does not offer 100% protection against the types of cancer that can be caused by HPV, as many other types of viruses also exist, although they are less common. Vaccinated women should therefore also take part in gynecological cancer screening.
Cell changes on the cervix are known as precancerous stages. In countries where the vaccination has been available for a long time, the number of interventions due to cell changes in the cervix fell by two thirds. Experts consider it very likely that vaccination will significantly reduce cancer rates in the long term.
Are there any side effects of the HPV vaccination?
The HPV vaccination is considered very safe and well tolerated. The vaccines themselves cannot cause infection because they do not contain complete viruses, only empty virus envelopes.
The two vaccines available on the market have slightly different side effects:
- Cervarix®: Redness, swelling and pain at the injection site, headache, muscle pain, tiredness; less often gastrointestinal discomfort, itching, rash, joint pain and fever; occasionally dizziness and upper respiratory infections
- Gardasil 9®: Redness, swelling and pain at the injection site, headache; less often fatigue, nausea, dizziness and fever
When the vaccination was introduced, rumors were circulating on the internet that girls fainted after being vaccinated and there were even two deaths. The connection with the HPV vaccination could not be proven and not confirmed in studies.
Is vaccination against HPV also used in other countries?
In addition to Germany, vaccination against HPV is recommended in many other countries: In Europe, the vaccination recommendation for girls applies in all EU countries as well as in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland; worldwide including in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada.
The vaccination recommendation for boys applies except in Germany in Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Israel, Canada, Puerto Rico, Panama and Brazil.
Don’t condoms serve the same purpose as the HPV vaccination?
Condoms protect against many sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, but they do not provide reliable protection against HPV. This is because the human papilloma virus can also be transmitted through skin contact in the genital and anal area – even with a condom. Studies have shown that the use of condoms reduced the number of HPV infections, but could not be prevented. In contrast, an HPV vaccination could reliably protect against infection.
Source: Lifeline | Das Gesundheitsportal by www.lifeline.de.
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