The HPV Vaccine Was Just Approved For Adults Up To Age 45

July 11, 2019

He U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last week that Gardasil 9, the HPV vaccine, is now approved for people between the ages of 27 and 45.

The vaccine, which protects against several strains of a sexually transmitted infection known as human papillomavirus, has been on the market for 12 years; however, it was approved only for people ages 9 to 26. The new study led the agency to expand the age range to 45, the FDA said in an Oct. 5 statement.

But does the new age approval mean that adults who never got the HPV vaccine should now get one? Not necessarily.

To understand why this may be the case, it’s important to understand what the vaccine can and can’t do. Gardasil 9, the version offered in the U.S., protects against nine strains of HPV, seven of which can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, anus, penis and throat, and two of which can cause genital warts. (The original version of the vaccine, known simply as Gardasil, protects against the wart strains and two link to cancer, the FDA says.)

All in all, the vaccine could prevent more than 90 percent of possible HPV-caused cancers, says Gypsyamber D’Souza, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

But here’s the catch. The vaccine is only effective if the recipient has not been previously infected with HPV. If someone has been exposed to a given strain of HPV – which most Americans of childbearing age already have, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – the vaccine can’t clear that infection, D’Souza told Live Science.

However, because the vaccine protects against nine strains, it can prevent future infections with those strains if an adult hasn’t previously been exposed to some of the other strains in the vaccine.

Most HPV infections, including potentially cancer-causing strains, go away on their own, the National Cancer Institute says. But about 33,700 people are diagnosed with HPV-caused cancers each year, the CDC says. And for those individuals whose infection causes cancer, getting the vaccine before becoming sexually active can prevent their HPV encounter from turning into an infection and, ultimately, leading to cancer, D’Souza says. In fact, that’s why U.S. Food and Drug Administration approvals and vaccine recommendations have focused on younger, potentially sexually active people in the past.

In general, adults ages 27 to 45 are expected to have been exposed to HPV, D’Souza says, because they’re more likely to be in monogamous, long-term sexual relationships. Of course, not everyone in this age group has low-risk sex, and now they have the option of getting the HPV vaccine.With the new study and the approval of Gardasil 9 in this age group, D’Souza said, the FDA says the drug can still prevent HPV infection in these adults.

The FDA’s announcement means “it’s approved for them because it’s safe and will allow them to get the vaccine if they want to,” D’Souza said.” But we will need to look to our [medical] organizations for recommendations on prevention and disease screening to review the data and see if the vaccine should be widely recommended for that age group.”

Vaccines of any kind can be emotionally and, depending on insurance coverage, financially costly, D’Souza says, and while the HPV vaccine won’t cause any harm, medical organizations won’t make any official recommendations until they have sufficient data to show the vaccine’s benefits for the entire age group. (Some of the organizations that will weigh in include, for example, the American Association for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.)