The FDA has changed its guidelines on who should get the HPV vaccination.
Share on PinterestOlder adults are now being encouraged to get the HPV vaccination in an effort to reduce the United States’ infection rate. Getty Images
You no longer have to be young to get a vaccination for the human papillomavirus (HPV).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded the age range guidelines for the immunization.
People between the ages of 27 and 45 who have not been previously vaccinated are now eligible for Gardasil 9.
HPV vaccine rates in the United States are steadily increasing, but the country is still lagging behind in preventing the spread of this sexually transmitted disease.
About half of adolescents in the country are up to date on the HPV vaccine. This is promising for the future, but the majority of adult women and men are still at risk.
The FDA guideline change was prompted in part by the positive impact the vaccine has on associated diseases, in particular cervical cancer.
While some experts are hopeful this additional age range will help the United States eradicate HPV, others are not so sure this change will make any difference.
What experts have to say
Healthline spoke with Cynthia Leifer, PhD, associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University in New York.
She supports the FDA’s new guidelines but also knows that adults tend not to think about vaccinations.
She said that “many adults forget, or are unaware, that they still need vaccines.”
So, in order for this to have an impact, Leifer said, “Primary care physicians need to let their patients know about this new option.”
Dr. Ian Frazer, an immunologist and professor best known for co-inventing the base technology behind the HPV vaccines, isn’t so sure a new age range guideline will spur increased vaccination rates.
While he admitted he’s not an expert on U.S. policies, he did mention that his U.S. colleagues say that success depends on the need for “insurance companies to reimburse the cost of the vaccine.”
Comparative analysis of coverage and vaccine rates across the globe confirm that argument. High-income countries with higher insurance coverage rates see increased vaccination rates.
Right now, the vaccine is covered in select U.S. states by some insurance companies and the onus is on the patient to find this information. This creates a barrier to access.
In cases where insurance coverage is available, it is not immediate.
Patients have to pay the up-front cost and wait to be reimbursed, providing another financial barrier that could decrease the likelihood of someone getting vaccinated.
“There is always a time lag in insurance coverage, so anyone who wants the vaccine and is over the age of 25 may have to pay for it,” Dr. Nanette Santoro, a professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told Healthline. “However, it’s always a good idea to check with one’s insurance.”
She went on to say the cost is around $300, but “it’s a good preventative health investment.”
What every adult needs to know
There are more than 100 subtypes of HPV and the virus causes 99 percent of cervical cancer cases.
If you have not been previously vaccinated, chances are, you have already been exposed to the virus.
So what’s the point in getting vaccinated after the fact?
“Even though it’s likely they have been exposed to HPV already, [adults] may benefit from becoming immune to all the carcinogenic subtypes,” said Santoro.
This is not strictly about HPV. It’s about reducing your risk factors for certain cancers as well.
“The benefit is immunity to a wider range of HPV types over the short term, and the long-term benefit may be a lower risk of oral and anal cancers along with a lower risk of cervical cancer,” Santoro said.
So even if you have been exposed to HPV — and even if you already have cervical cancer — there is value in getting vaccinated.
Santoro says some of her oncology colleagues argue that it is never too late to get vaccinated.
“There are even some protocols in which women who already have cervical cancer are getting the vaccine to help slow the course of their disease,” she said.
The bottom line
Experts say all adults between the ages of 27 and 45 who have not been previously vaccinated against HPV should do so.
This age group is now eligible for the HPV vaccine because of a recent change in FDA guidelines.
However, experts say insurance companies need to cover the cost of the immunization if the HPV vaccination rate can rise in the United States.