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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine


Vaccination is the best protection against infections caused by HPVs This link opens a new window. and their complications.

The Cervarix and Gardasil vaccines protect against infections caused by HPV 16 and 18 and their complications. These two types of HPV are the main causes of cancers of the anus, penis, vulva, vagina, cervix, mouth and throat.

Gardasil also protects against infections caused by HPV 6 and 11, which cause condylomas, also known as anal and genital warts. Anal and genital warts are the most common sexually transmitted infections in Canada. When someone is infected by an HPV, he or she often does not know because it goes undetected.

Objective of the HPV vaccination program

The objective of the vaccination program is to prevent cancers associated with HPV, such as cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus and oropharynx (the upper part of the throat behind the oral cavity and the back part of the tongue, the soft palate and the tonsils). The program also aims to prevent other diseases associated with HPV (warts).

Impact of HPV infections

Every year in Québec, an average of 281 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 69 die of the disease. In reality, many more women are affected.

Around 53,000 women each year have to see a specialist for follow-up procedures after receiving Pap test (a screening test for cancer of the cervix conducted during a gynecological exam) results indicating abnormalities related to HPV. These clinical procedures can be unpleasant and stressful and require several visits. Some procedures, like biopsy or colposcopy, can even be painful. Other procedures, like the removal of part of the uterus, can also have an impact on fertility.

Both men and women can be infected by an HPV. The risk of being infected by the same HPV, however, may be higher in men because they develop fewer antibodies than women after being infected by one or more HPVs.

Unlike heterosexual men, men who have sex with men are at greater risk of developing anogenital warts or a cancer caused by HPV, especially anal cancer. Men who have sex with men don’t normally benefit from the indirect protection provided by the vaccination of girls. Sex between men considerably increases the risk of anal cancer. Anogenital warts are two to three times more common in men who have sex with men than in heterosexual men of the same age. 

Average number of cases per year of the diseases caused by HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18 (included in the vaccine) in Québec between 2004 and 2007

Diseases caused by HPV

Average number of cases in women

Average number of cases in men

Cancers of the anus, penis, vulva, vagina and cervix

(vulva, vagina, cervix and anus)

(penis and anus)

Cancers of the mouth and throat




14 000

14 000

Benefits of HPV vaccination

Vaccination has proven itself by reducing, even eradicating, certain serious diseases. The case of the HPV vaccine is no exception.

The HPV vaccine prevents, in particular, precancerous cervical lesions as well as anal and genital warts (condylomas). Beyond clinical studies conducted on the efficiency of vaccines, this protection has been confirmed in countries where vaccination has been implemented for several years, such as Australia.

In men who are not infected at the time of vaccination, the vaccination is 90% effective in preventing anogenital warts and 79% effective in preventing precancerous and cancerous lesions on the genital organs and in the anus, mouth and throat. However, the vaccine is less effective in men who are already infected at the time of vaccination. That’s why it’s better to be vaccinated before the onset of sexual activity or as soon as possible afterwards.

Recent data indicates that the vaccine may even be effective in preventing the reappearance of anal lesions in men already infected by one of the HPVs included in the vaccine.

Since 2008 in Québec, vaccination against HPV is recommended for girls, since it is recognized as an effective and safe means of preventing cervical cancer.

However, these viruses cause several other health issues that affect men as well as women. The program has therefore been expanded to include a wider clientele in order to extend protection against the consequences of these infections to a larger number of people. Men who have sex with men aged 26 or under can be vaccinated free of charge since January 1, 2016, and boys in Grade 4, starting on September 1, 2016.


Children in Grade 4

Québec’s HPV vaccination program is offered to girls in Grade 4 for the following reasons:

  • The immune system responds best to the vaccine between the ages of 9 and 11
  • The vaccine is most effective when the person is not already infected. Since infection usually occurs during the first years of sexual activity, it is preferable that girls be vaccinated before they become sexually active
  • There is already a vaccination program in Grade 4 against another infection, hepatitis B. This avoids repetitive movements for parents to have their children vaccinated
  • In Grade 4, two doses of vaccine are sufficient. After the age of 14, three doses are required

Effective September 1, 2016, the vaccine will also be offered to all boys in Grade 4 in order to provide all young people with fair and direct protection.

Other clientele

Under the Québec Immunisation Program, the following people can also be vaccinated free of charge:

  • Girls between 9 and 17 years old
  • People aged 26 or under who:
    • Have a weakened immune system
    • Are infected with HIV
  • Since January 1, 2016, men aged 26 or under who have or plan to have sex with men

Number of doses required

Depending on the person’s age, two or three doses of the vaccine are required over a period of six months to have the best protection. Ideally, vaccination should be performed before the start of sexual activity. The vaccine is indicated even for someone who has already contracted an HPV infection. Vaccinated women should continue to follow the recommendations for testing for cervical cancer.

Duration of protection

Protection lasts for a number of years.

If necessary, a booster dose will be given later to prolong protection.

Studies are being conducted around the world to evaluate long-term protection.


There may be some side effects from the vaccine – redness at the injection site, for example. If other problems occur – like a cold, a gastroenteritis or a headache – they are coincidental and are not related to the vaccine.

The HPV vaccine is safe. Most reactions are harmless and do not last long.

The Nature and Frequency of Known Reactions to the Vaccine

Frequency Possible reactions to the vaccine

In most cases
(more than 50% of people)

  • Pain at the injection site

Very often
(less than 50% of people)

  • Redness or swelling at the injection site

(less than 10% of people)

  • Itching at the injection site, fever, discomfort, joint pain

To date, more than 175 million doses of vaccine against HPV have been administered around the world.

Current data show no serious or unexpected side effects related to this vaccine. No link has been established between the vaccine against HPV and any serious diseases or death.

As for all immunization programs, the monitoring of side effects is done through the Programme de surveillance passive des effets secondaires possiblement reliés à l’immunisation (ESPRI), established by the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux.

What to do After Vaccination

Tips to follow immediately following vaccination

Wait 15 minutes before leaving the premises where you were given the vaccine. If a serious allergic reaction occurs, the symptoms will appear a few minutes after the vaccination.

If you feel any side effects, immediately inform the person giving the vaccine. That person will be able to treat you immediately.

Tips to follow at home

If you experience redness, pain or swelling at the injection site, apply a cold, damp compress.

Use medication for fever or discomfort if needed.

When to Seek Medical Help

See a doctor if one of the following applies to you:

  • You experience serious and unusual symptoms
  • Your symptoms get worse instead of better
  • Your symptoms last over 48 hours

Last update: March 31, 2016 2:17 PM

The information on this website by no means replaces the advice of a health professional. If you have questions regarding your health, contact Info-Santé 8-1-1 or see a health professional.

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