For more than a decade doctors have been recommending preventive vaccination against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, for girls (and more recently, boys, too), but now, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of Gardasil 9 in adults between 27 and 45 years old.
The approval could be a game-changer for women's health.
According to the FDA, HPV can cause certain cancers and diseases, including cervical cancer, which impacts 12,000 women each year. By preventing HPV, the vaccine prevents potentially fatal cervical cancer, and vaccination is actually more cost-effective than cancer screening, some doctors say.
As MedPage reports, when Gardasil launched in 2006 the vaccine aimed to prevent four types of HPV in girls and women ages 9 years to 26. Later, the recommendation for the early version of the vaccine expanded to include boys and young men.
In the years since, the old version of Gardasil was phased out of use in the U.S., replaced with a new version of the vaccine that protects against 9 types of HPV. It's this new vaccine, Gardasil 9, that's now approved for older adults, too.
Some ob-gyns have been calling for this for years, recommending the HPV vaccine to older women even though its use in those over 26 was, technically, off-label. That means insurance hasn't covered it, and a vaccination would cost hundreds of dollars.
Now, with the approval, that will likely change.
"In general, what we've seen is that once the FDA gives approval and says there is a good response to the vaccine, we would in short order expect approved coverage from insurers," Dr. Charles Leath, a gynecologic oncology specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham tells CNN.
According to the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV vaccination has the potential to prevent more than 90% of the cancers caused by the 9 strains of HPV Gardasil covers.
While the safety of the vaccine has been a hotly debated online for years, the CDC says Gardasil is safe. However, despite a study showing no ill effects in pregnant women, it is not recommended during pregnancy, as more research is still needed.