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Does the HPV Vaccine Cause Paralysis?

There's a girl in my class who says that getting the HPV vaccine will make you prone to becoming paralyzed. Is this true?
– Jeyne*

Your classmate was probably talking about Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). GBS is a rare medical condition where a person's immune system attacks the nerves. People who get GBS can sometimes become paralyzed. Most of the time it's temporary and the person gets better.

Scientists don't know exactly what causes GBS, but it can be brought on by infections and occasionally by vaccines. A few people have reported GBS after the HPV vaccine. Experts have investigated this issue closely, and have not found a connection between GBS and the HPV vaccine. They think that these people probably had GBS anyway and just happened to get the vaccine around the same time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have studied the HPV vaccine extensively and approved it as safe. The CDC and FDA continue to monitor the vaccine to make sure it's not causing serious health problems — just like they do with any vaccine.

Although all vaccines carry a small risk of an allergic reaction, any side effects with the HPV shot are mostly minor. Someone might notice swelling or pain at the site of the shot, or feel faint after getting the shot.

Doctors recommend that all kids get the vaccine at age 9 to 11 to protect them against the serious problems that HPV can cause (like cancer). Teens or young adults who didn't start or complete the series of shots can get it up to age 26.

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

Reviewed by: Christina M. Shultz, MD and Taina A. Trevino, MD
Date reviewed: December 2020