An expert panel that advises the WHO on vaccines now says there is enough evidence to recommend a single dose of the HPV vaccine for girls under 20. Key TakeawaysAn advisory panel for the World Health Organization recommends a single dose of the HPV vaccine for girls between the ages of 9 and 20.The two-dose series is still recommended for women aged 21 to 26.Experts say the recommendation can
An expert panel that advises the World Health Organization (WHO) on vaccines now says there is enough evidence to recommend a single dose of the HPV vaccine for girls aged 9 to 20. The vaccine, which protects against some forms of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers, is typically given in several doses.
The WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) made the recommendation in early April, concluding that a single dose of the HPV vaccine provides “solid protection” against the virus and is comparable to receiving two doses.
“This could be a game-changer for the prevention of the disease; seeing more doses of the life-saving jab reach more girls,” the WHO said in a news release.
“The HPV vaccine is highly effective for the prevention of HPV serotypes 16 & 18, which cause 70% of cervical cancer,” SAGE chair Alejandro Cravioto, MD, said in a statement. “SAGE urges all countries to introduce HPV vaccines and prioritize multi-age cohort catch up of missed and older cohorts of girls."
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a group of common viruses that can cause cancers later in life. Nearly everyone will get HPV at some point in their life and about 42 million Americans are currently infected with the types of HPV that cause disease.
HPV is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, including having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. Nine out of 10 HPV infections go away by themselves within two years, but some last longer and can cause cancer. HPV causes about 36,000 cases of cancer in men and women in the U.S. each year.
The HPV vaccine has not been widely used on a global scale. According to WHO data, just 13% of girls across the world received two doses of the vaccine, citing supply challenges and relatively high cost of the vaccines as obstacles. Plus, there’s the cost of delivering a two-dose vaccine to older girls who are not usually part of childhood vaccination programs.
"In 2020 the Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative was launched to address several challenges including the inequity in vaccine access," said WHO Assistant Director-General Princess Nothemba Simelela, MD. “This single-dose recommendation has the potential to take us faster to our goal of having 90% of girls vaccinated by the age of 15 by 2030.”
Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Verywell a single dose make work well only in younger age cohorts because “there can be less of an immune response to the vaccine as a woman gets older.”
SAGE doesn’t recommend that all girls receive one dose of the HPV vaccine. Instead, the advisory group suggests the following HPV dose schedule:
People who are immunocompromised should receive three doses, if possible, or at least two doses.
The recommendations are not finalized. Instead, the WHO will consult with stakeholders before making a final decision.
“The recommendations are based on data and will help stretch the supply of HPV vaccines, reduce costs, and ease administration,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Verywell.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children—girls and boys—receive two doses of the HPV vaccine at ages 11 through 12, although it can be started at age 9.
The CDC recommends three doses of the vaccine if starting the series at age 15 or later, or if you’re immunocompromised. The vaccine is not recommended for people older than 26. Doses are typically given six to 12 months apart.
HPV vaccines were first introduced in the U.S. in 2006. Since then, the percentage of cervical precancers caused by HPV has dropped 40% in vaccinated women.
Adalja notes that there are limitations to SAGE’s global recommendations: It doesn’t apply to boys and only focuses on cervical cancer prevention.
“In the United States, HPV is now something that is a routine childhood immunization for both boys and girls,” he said, adding that the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices “will have to decide if this is a path they want to follow in the U.S. as well.”
If you’re under the age of 26 or have a child who is eligible for the HPV vaccine, talk to your doctor about getting the series. As of now, the recommendations in the U.S. for a two-dose series of the HPV vaccine remain the same.