Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine Update

Cheryl Lau, PharmD Candidate Class of 2021; Hayden Carrion, PharmD Candidate Class of 2021; Michele Pisano, PharmD, BCGP, CDE; Carmela Avena-Woods, BS Pharm, PharmD, BCGP


US Pharmacist. 2020;45(9):17-20. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Most HPV infections are asymptomatic and resolve spontaneously within 1 to 2 years. About 80% of people will get HPV in their lifetime. Some HPV infections that last beyond 12 months can increase risk of cancer and precancer. Gardasil9 is the only vaccine approved in the U.S. for prevention of HPV-associated cancers and precancerous lesions. Despite the availability of an effective vaccine, millions of Americans remain susceptible to HPV infection and its associated cancers. Pharmacists have an essential role in promoting public health through proper education of patients and improvement in immunization rates against this preventable infection.


Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a double-stranded DNA virus that occurs mostly in individuals between the ages of 15 and 25 years.[1] There are over 100 types of HPV that can affect any location in the body, from the human genital tract to the oropharyngeal tract. HPV targets the basal keratinocytes after a wound allows human cells to be exposed to the virus. HPV types 6 and 11 are responsible for benign genital warts and are considered low risk for complications. HPV types 16 and 18 are classified as high risk and cause dysplastic lesions that account for 80% of all HPV-associated cancers and over a quarter of a million deaths annually.[2,3] Most infections are asymptomatic and resolve within 12 months; however, carcinogenic HPV infections that last beyond 12 months may increase the risk of precancer or cancer.[2]

Nearly 80 million people are currently infected with HPV in the United States, and approximately 14 million people, including teenagers, become infected with HPV each year. Prevalence of genital infection with any HPV type was 42.5% among adults aged 18 to 59 years during 2013–2014.[4] Prevalence of any high-risk genital and oral HPV infection was higher among non-Hispanic black adults and lower among non-Hispanic Asian adults.[4] HPV infections and cervical precancers have decreased since the introduction of a vaccine, but immunization rates still fall below the target of 80% set by Healthy People 2020.[5]