HPV vaccination: process, efficacy and possible side effects

The HPV vaccination is classified under preventive healthcare. But how old do you need to be to receive the HPV vaccination and what are the possible side effects? Should boys and men get an HPV vaccination too? We’ll answer all these questions below.

22.01.2024 Imke Schmitz 4 minutes

What is the HPV vaccination?

The HPV vaccination is also referred to as the cervical cancer vaccination and offers protection against infection with certain types of HPV, which is short for human papillomavirus. HPV is a common virus that is spread primarily through sexual contact, with the HPV pathogens transmitted through minor injuries to the skin or through mucous membranes. In most cases, those infected with types of HPV won’t experience any symptoms; however, it can lead to skin and mucous membrane changes in the long term. These changes can range from genital warts through to precancerous lesions and cancer.

There are more than 200 types of HPV that are associated with varying levels of risk. High-risk types increase the risk of cancer, whereas low-risk types can cause genital warts but don’t increase the risk of cancer. A cervical cancer vaccination offers protection against the most common high-risk and low-risk types of HPV and against up to 90% of the high-risk types that cause cervical cancers. The vaccination therefore reduces the risk of:

  • Cervical cancer: the fifth most common type of cancer amongst women between the ages of 20 and 49 in Switzerland.
  • Other HPV-related illnesses: these include cancers in the pharynx, genital area and mouth.
  • Genital warts: these are caused by what are known as low-risk types of HPV; an HPV vaccination reduces the risk of genital warts.

Cervical cancer: what does the vaccination do?

The HPV vaccination plays a vital role in offering protection against cervical cancer. Not all types of HPV cause cancer. However, some types are known to lead to cervical cancer – and it is exactly these types of HPV that the vaccination is able to protect against. The vaccination is most effective when administered before a person’s first sexual contact.

Important: the HPV vaccination is preventive in nature. This means that it is unable to cure existing HPV infections. That said, having the vaccination after contact or an HPV infection can still be beneficial because it offers protection against seven dangerous types of HPV, and so also offers protection against types of HPV that the person has not yet come into contact with.

HPV vaccination: from when?

The vaccination is most effective when it is administered before a person’s first sexual contact. Doctors recommend it between the ages of 11 and 14. The HPV vaccination can be administered as part of a cantonal vaccination programme and is always given by a GP, paediatrician or gynaecologist.

What about HPV vaccination for adults?

HPV vaccination can also be of benefit for adults over the age of 26. In particular, it offers protection against types of HPV with which they might not have come into contact. The benefit of the HPV vaccination for adults does depend on various factors, however, including the individual risk and the personal health history. The best thing to do is to ask your gynaecologist for advice. Important: the virus can also be transmitted when no symptoms are present.

What about HPV vaccination for men and boys?

An HPV vaccination is not just beneficial for women and girls: boys and men can also benefit. For example, the HPV vaccination can offer protection against genital warts and certain cancers, such as anal cancer and cancer of the pharynx. For this reason, the HPV vaccination is recommended as a routine vaccination for both girls and boys aged between 11 and 14. This ensures that, in most cases, the protection offered by the vaccination is established before the person’s first sexual contact. However, it is also possible to be vaccinated at a later point in time. The Federal Office of Public Health recommends the vaccination as an additional vaccination for those aged 20 to 26.

HPV vaccination: what are the side effects?

The possible side effects of the HPV vaccination are mild and temporary, as with those from other vaccinations:

  • Pain, redness or swelling at the injection site: these are mostly moderate and wear off quickly.
  • Slight fever: shortly after receiving the vaccination, some people experience a slight increase in body temperature.
  • Tiredness and feeling unwell: exhaustion or general feelings of being unwell can occur, but they do not generally last for long.
  • Headaches: mild headaches can also occur after the vaccination.

On the whole, the Federal Office of Public Health, Swissmedic and other authorities consider the HPV vaccination to be safe. If you have concerns or questions about the HPV vaccination and about possible side effects that may present as long-term effects, we urge you to discuss these with your doctor.

HPV vaccination: how often?

When it comes to the HPV vaccination, the frequency of doses given by the doctor will depend on your age. If a young person receives their first vaccination before the age of 15, then two injections are sufficient. These will be administered at least five months apart. If administered within five months of each other, however, three doses will be necessary.

Those older than 15 will need three injections. Ideally, your doctor will administer these within one year at 0, 2 and 6 months.

It is not currently known if an HPV vaccination booster is necessary. Current studies indicate that the vaccination offers protection for at least 10 to 20 years.

Note: HPV can still be transmitted even if you have had an HPV vaccination because the vaccination does not protect against all of the more than 200 known types of HPV. However, the vaccination does reduce the risk of transmitting the key high-risk and low-risk types that are associated with genital warts and certain cancers.

HPV vaccination: will my health insurance company cover the costs?

Helsana will reimburse the vaccination costs under basic insurance coverage if the HPV vaccination is administered as part of a cantonal vaccination programme. In this case, no deductible will be due. Outside of the cantonal programmes, Helsana will cover the vaccination costs for girls and women aged between 9 and 45 and for boys and men aged between 9 and 26 under the SANA, COMPLETA and COMPLETA PLUS supplementary insurance policies.


Your supplement: Outpatient benefits and alternative treatments are covered.


All the benefits of TOP and SANA – in some cases with higher reimbursements.


COMPLETA PLUS extends the scope of cover of COMPLETA.

What about an HPV vaccination after infection?

It can also be beneficial to have an HPV vaccination after contracting HPV. This is because the vaccination offers protection against HPV types with which you have probably not yet come into contact. These can also include high-risk types. This means that an HPV vaccination can ensure additional protection for those with HPV.

What about the HPV vaccination and wanting to have children?

Wanting to have children does not preclude you from having an HPV vaccination. Researchers have not established a link between the HPV vaccination and potential infertility. So, wanting to having children does not mean you cannot have an HPV vaccination. On the contrary: if you get the vaccination before becoming pregnant, then you reduce the risk of your child becoming infected during childbirth.

What about the HPV vaccination while pregnant?

As a precaution, doctors advise against an HPV vaccination if you are already pregnant. Even if you are in the process of getting vaccination doses, then you should put this on hold while you are pregnant. You can complete your course of HPV vaccinations after giving birth and once you have finished breastfeeding.

The HPV vaccination is a core element of preventive healthcare. Speak to your doctor to get more information and to clear up any concerns you may have.

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