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The HPV vaccine (also called "Gardasil" or "the cervical cancer vaccine" )

WHAT IT IS: A new vaccine has recently been licensed to protect girls and young women against HPV (human papillomavirus).

WHAT IS HPV: HPV is a very common virus around the world which can cause cervical cancer, precancerous cervical lesions (which cause abnormal pap smears) and genital warts.

HOW EFFECTIVE IS IT: The vaccine protects girls against 4 types of HPV, including 2 strains that cause over 70% of all cervical cancers.

WHY IT'S IMPORTANT: This year almost 10,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3700 women will die from the disease. HPV or human papillomavirus is the primary cause of cervical cancer in the US. There is no treatment for the virus, although there are treaments for complications from the virus such as cervical cancer and precancerous changes that cause abnormal pap smears.

WHO SHOULD GET IT: The vaccine is recommended for all girls ages 11-12 years, although is it approved for girls 9-26 years of age. Gardasil is most effective when given to girls before they become sexually active, because HPV is spread primarily by sexual contact. Once girls have already been exposed to these strains of HPV, the vaccine is not effective. Research is ongoing regarding the vaccine's effects on protecting boys from HPV, and at this time it is only licensed in girls.

VACCINE SCHEDULE: To receive optimal protection, girls need to receive 3 doses of the HPV vaccine within 6 months. The second dose is given 2 months after the first dose and the third dose is 4 months later or 6 months after the first dose. At this time it is not known what kind of protection results if someone misses a dose, and it is not clear if booster doses may sometime be needed.

INSURANCE COVERAGE: If your insurance company covers other recommended vaccines, it is likely Gardasil will be covered too. Check with your insurance company to find out if Gardasil is covered. If you do not have insurance coverage for the new HPV vaccine, check with your local health department to find out if you can get Gardasil free or at a reduced cost.

For more information about the new HPV vaccine, check out the CDC website: