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Am I too old for the HPV vaccine?

Last week, the FDA announced it had approved expanded use of the HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9) to include those aged 27 through 45. Previously, approval only covered males and females aged nine through 26.

But how effective is the vaccine when you are older and is it worthwhile?

The HPV vaccine protects against nine different types of HPV viruses (there are over 150 HPV viruses in existence), but these nine cause almost 90% of all HPV-associated cancers. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, with four out of five sexually active people contracting at least one HPV virus during their lifetime.

It makes sense to vaccinate children before they are sexually active because once you acquire the virus it never really leaves your body. Most people with HPV have no symptoms until something causes their immune system to become compromised and the disease takes hold. Luckily, very few people with HPV end up with cancer.

But that doesn’t mean there is no benefit in vaccinating people older than 26 who have been sexually active for several years. Gardasil 9 protects against nine different HPV viruses, so even if you have already contracted one or two, vaccination offers protection against the remainder.

Some people may argue that the immune response to vaccination is not as strong in adults. While it is true it is strongest in children, the response is still significant enough in those over 26, especially after three doses of the vaccine (children aged 12 and under only need two doses).

Almost everybody who is eligible should consider vaccination with Gardasil 9, even those in long-term monogamous relationships. Life has a habit of throwing up curve balls and the earlier you protect yourself against HPV the better for you if you are exposed to the virus in the future. Preliminary evidence also suggests other possible benefits, such as cross-protection against other HPV viruses not covered in the vaccine and a reversal of already established pre-cancerous cervical lesions.

We are only just scratching the surface of the benefits of vaccination against HPV, but for a vaccine that carries very little risk and a massive amount of benefits, vaccination seems like a no-brainer.

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