Throwback Thursday HPV Vaccine for Adults

We read your emails but it has been brought to our attention that you fine readers have not read every single thing we ever have written on this blog.

This is not acceptable.

Especially considering we have published some very informative posts. Posts that one might say are skeptical in thought.

To prove this to you, and to highlight some of the fun and fascinating articles that you may have missed, from here on out, on Thursdays we will be posting a classic Skepchick post from the past. Inspired by all those fun photos from childhood that people post on Facebook on Thursdays we will call this our very own “Throwback Thursday.”

Skepchick logo throwback thurs

Each article will be re-read before re-posting and if anything has changed over time then relevant edits will be included and time stamped. Accuracy is important to us, and so is educating the public on important issues that are often related to women. If you have new information on any of the topics that you think would help, please leave them in the comments.

And on that note, I bring you a classic Skepchick Throwback Thursday post. This article was originally posted as part of my Ask Surly Amy series. It was originally posted on 1/16/2012.

It is about HPV Vaccines and their efficacy for adults. Do enjoy and if you can, get a little prick!

Dear Surly Amy,

I’m (very nearly) a 30 year old woman who has only had a handful of sexual partners in my life; only one of them entailing vaginal penetration. The HPV vaccine came out in my early 20s and when my doctor found out I was already sexually active he shrugged off the idea of even giving it to me. This didn’t seem entirely logical to me at the time and it still doesn’t seem to make the most sense. Wouldn’t it be a situation of ‘better safe then sorry!’ and just best to give it to me? My insurance should (shitty as it is!) cover it and failing that it can’t be -that- expensive! So my question really is: Is there any benefit in pressuring my doctor into giving me the HPV vaccine now or or is it really a situation where I shouldn’t bother? Having read many of your past Ask Surly posts I see you’re way more well connected with doctor types then me and with my social anxiety it really is that hard for me to pick up the phone and ask my doctor this question.


Dear Otokogoroshi,

We have addressed a similar issue here as an Ask Surly Amy question in the past. The question was phrased a bit different at that time and was essentially should moms get the vaccine for their sons and daughters? The answer to that question was a resounding yes. So I am not going to go into any detail about the benefits of the vaccine in terms of a preventative measure in children and young adults. You can read the prior post for that information if you so desire. Long story short – for young people yes, it is an important vaccine.

However, based on your age and sexual activity, what your doctor is saying is not at all outside the realm of what the CDC and the WHO is saying in terms of recommendation:

CDC continues to recommend the vaccination of 11 and 12 year old girls with 3 doses of vaccine to prevent the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer and genital warts. The vaccine is also recommended for girls and women ages 13 through 26 who did not get any or all of the doses when they were younger.

Additionally, Gardasil protects males against most genital warts. This vaccine is available for boys and men, 9 through 26 years of age.

There is not a lot of evidence to judge effectiveness of the vaccine in sexually active men and women over the age of 26. The vaccine was developed and studied for use in young adults. The verdict seems to still be out as to whether there is benefit in adults who are still sexually active. If you do decide to get the vaccine, you will most likely only suffer a sore arm. However again, this vaccine has really only been studied and deemed effective (to my knowledge) as a preventive measure, protecting against genital warts and cervical cancer in young men and women. It would have seemed reasonable to give you the vaccine when you were younger, but is quite reasonable not to recommend it now.

If you still feel uncomfortable with your doctor’s advice please seek a second opinion at a women’s health clinic or see another MD. I understand that you feel uneasy discussing this sort of thing in person, many people do but rest assured that doctors get these types of questions everyday. If discussing this on the phone or in person is really difficult for you – try emailing your doctor. My personal advice? Continue regular cervical cancer screenings, if you have sex, have protected sex, and follow the recommendation of your MD or seek a second, qualified opinion.

Author’s edit 4/17/14:
The common consensus now seems to be that if you have not been sexually active, then age is mostly irrelevant in terms of how effective this vaccine can be. So if you are, for example in your 30’s and have not had sex, it would be perfectly reasonable for you to request the vaccine from your doctor. If you have been active however, and are past the age of recommendation, then you may have already been exposed to the virus and then the vaccine may not be effective. And as always, I am no doctor so be sure to get quality medical advice from an MD, not just the internet and get yourself tested for the HPV virus if you have not had the shot and are sexually active. HPV can lead to cancer.

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. I was tested for HPV and found negative. I asked for the vaccine, but because I am over 30 my gynecologist said I could not get it.

    1. “If a 30-year-old female patient insists that she wants to be given HPV vaccine, can I give it to her?
      “HPV vaccine is not FDA-licensed for use in women older than age 26 years at this time. Studies are currently being conducted in women age 27 years and older. ACIP does not recommend the use of this vaccine outside the FDA licensing guidelines; however, many physicians administer this vaccine as off-label use. There is no reason to believe the vaccine would be any less safe for women in this age group than for younger women. Clinicians should decide if the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the hypothetical risk.”

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