The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccine Gardasil 9 for use in men and women up to age 45 to protect them from the human papillomavirus, or HPV. About 14 million people in America are infected with HPV each year, so raising the age for the vaccine has been hailed as a great step toward improving health care.
The decision has led some to ask: Should those who may have been exposed to HPV at a younger age get the vaccine?
Health experts say yes. The HPV vaccine protects against nine strains of the virus that cause most HPV-related cancers. Even if someone has been exposed to one of the strains, it’s unlikely that they have been exposed to all of them.
An estimated 31,000 new cases of HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV is so prevalent because the virus is easily transmitted through all types of sexual activity.
The CDC has long recommended the vaccine be given to boys and girls at ages 11 to 12, long before they’d likely be exposed to the virus, and any young adult up to age 26. The FDA’s approval for expanding the vaccine’s age range came after examining data that showed the vaccine still had high levels of efficacy for older adults.
One thing to consider is that many insurance companies do not cover the vaccine after age 26. The vaccinations can range up to $250 per dose and three are required.
Still, HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, so even if you have been vaccinated, it’s important to visit your doctor annually to keep your sexual and reproductive health in line.