Is It Safe to Get the HPV Vaccine During Pregnancy?

Woman receiving injection in her arm from gloved hands

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Generally and historically, pregnant people have been advised not to receive the vaccine that prevents human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can cause genital warts as well as cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, and anus.

The HPV vaccine, marketed under the name Gardasil, has been a major breakthrough in preventing the spread of HPV and is generally recommended for people ages 9 through 26—except in pregnancy.

However, the practice of advising against vaccination during pregnancy has been implemented out of an abundance of caution. Research on the safety of the Gardasil vaccine during pregnancy has been limited. While animal studies showed Gardasil did not appear to affect fetuses, no human studies had been performed—until recently.

Evidence Indicates That Gardasil Is Safe for Pregnant Women

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that the quadrivalent HPV vaccine does not pose any dangers if it is administered to pregnant women. Researchers in Denmark compared 1,665 women who received Gardasil during early pregnancy with 6,660 women who were not pregnant when they were vaccinated.

The researchers found that the vaccine did not increase the chances of spontaneous miscarriage, any major birth defects, premature birth, stillbirth, or low birth weight.

Further Research Is Needed to Confirm Gardasil's Safety During Pregnancy

While the results of this study are reassuring to people who received the vaccine while they were unaware they were pregnant, the FDA has not indicated it will change its labeling of the vaccine. Current labeling indicates that the vaccine does not appear to cause harm to a developing fetus in animal studies, but the full risks are unknown.

Further research is needed to confirm Gardasil's safety during pregnancy, and therefore guidelines advising against the use of Gardasil during pregnancy likely will remain unchanged. In essence, the HPV vaccine will continue to be advised against during pregnancy until more research confirms what the Danish study has found.

People with known pregnancies will most likely continue to be advised by their doctors to avoid the vaccine, even if doses of the three-part series have been given. The remaining doses of the vaccine can be resumed after pregnancy.

What to Do If You Received Gardasil While Pregnant

If you have received the vaccine and were unaware that you were pregnant, let your doctor know. While you can feel relatively confident your pregnancy and baby will not be harmed by the vaccine, your doctor may want to follow you more closely or report the pregnancy to Merck (the vaccine's manufacturer), which has a registry set up to track the outcomes of people exposed to Gardasil during pregnancy.

3 Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV vaccine recommendations.

  2. Scheller NM, Pasternak B, Mølgaard-Nielsen D, Svanström H, Hviid A. Quadrivalent HPV vaccination and the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. N Engl J Med. 2017;376(13):1223-1233. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1612296

  3. Food and Drug Administration. Package insert - Gardasil.