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Human papillomavirus

Put “HPV Cancer Prevention” on Your District of Columbia Back-to-School Checklist

HPV vaccine can prevent certain cancers and other diseases caused by the human papillomavirus (pap-ah-LO-mah-VYE-rus), known as HPV. As you get your child ready to go back to school, talk to your healthcare provider and get your girls and your boys vaccinated if they are 11 or 12 years old. If they're already 13 or older, they can get vaccinated as soon as possible.  

Why do preteens need the HPV vaccine now?

To prevent cancers caused by HPV later

HPV is very common; about 79 million people in the United States, most in their teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. Almost all sexually active people get HPV at some point in their lives, but most never know they have been infected. Many HPV infections go away, but sometimes HPV can cause genital warts or cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the United States, about 17,000 women per year get cancer that is linked with HPV infection, and cervical cancer is the most common. Around 9,000 men per year get an HPV-associated cancer, and the most common of those are cancers of the back of throat, tongue, and tonsils. HPV can also cause cancers of the vulva and vagina in women, cancer of the penis in men, and cancer of the anus in women and men. The HPV vaccine is important because the HPV infections that cause most of these cancers can be prevented with vaccination.

What else should I know about HPV vaccine?

The District of Columbia’s Human Papillomavirus Vaccination and Reporting Act of 2007 (D.C. Law 17-10) established a District-wide policy requiring the HPV vaccine to be added to those vaccines that are mandatory for school attendance

The current legislation is expressly applicable to female students with the authority to extend the program, through rulemaking, to males. A rule to include males is pending

HPV vaccines are given in a series of three shots over six months. For the best protection against the most dangerous types of HPV, it is very important to get all three shots long before being exposed. Someone can be exposed to HPV through many kinds of sexual activity—not just what teens today often consider "sex." It’s important not to wait until sexual activity starts to give the vaccine; HPV infection can happen even the first time someone becomes sexually active.

The HPV vaccines have a very good safety record. More than 57 million doses have been distributed in the U.S. In the seven years since the vaccine was recommended, safety studies continue to show that HPV vaccines are safe. Some preteens and teens may feel lightheaded, dizzy, or like they may faint when getting any vaccine, including HPV vaccine. After a preteen or teen gets any vaccination, it’s a good idea for the teen to wait for about 15 minutes before leaving the office, just to make sure they do not get hurt if they do faint.

Of course, healthcare providers also strongly encourage that all teens receive an annual physical examination, and that’s an excellent time to get vaccinated.

Who should get HPV vaccine?

Boys and girls should get all three doses of HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12 years old.

If a teen or young adult (through age 26) has not started or finished the series of three HPV vaccine shots, it's not too late! Even if it has been a long time since your child got the first or second dose of HPV vaccine, you don’t have to start over—just get the remaining shot(s) as soon as possible. The most important thing is to make sure your son or daughter completes all three shots. Make an appointment today to get your child vaccinated.

When should I ask my healthcare provider about the HPV vaccine? During any appointment. Ask during your next visit.

Take advantage of any visit to your son’s or daughter’s healthcare provider—checkups, sick visits, even physicals for sports or school—to ask the doctor about what shots your preteen or teen needs. Even if your doctor doesn’t mention HPV vaccine, ask the doctor or nurse about getting it for your child during that appointment.

What if I cannot afford to pay for the HPV Vaccine?

Families who need help paying for the HPV vaccine, or any recommended vaccines for their children, should ask their healthcare provider about Vaccines for Children.

The program provides vaccines at no cost to uninsured and underinsured children younger than 19 years. For more information about HPV and the HPV vaccine, or for help finding a local healthcare provider who participates in the Vaccine for Children program, parents can call the DC Immunization Program at (202) 576-7130 or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) or go to


HPV Flyer

HPV Web Banner

HPV Commercial

HPV Emblem (green)

HPV Emblem (black)

HPV Emblem (pink)


The content for the website was developed from information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the District of Columbia’s Immunization Program. Updated July 15, 2014

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