The HPV vaccine helps protect you against certain high risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). This is important because some strains of HPV can cause cancer. Others can cause genital warts.

The HPV vaccine is safe for most people, including people with psoriasis. The HPV vaccine does not contain live virus parts, so there is little risk of it triggering a psoriasis flare. It is also very effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the HPV vaccine may prevent more than 90 percent of cancers attributable to HPV.

Psoriasis is an immune system disorder. It can not be caused by a vaccine. Viruses like HPV can increase your risk of developing psoriasis, so the HPV vaccine may actually help protect you.

Keep reading to learn more about the connections between psoriasis, the HPV vaccine, and HPV itself.

Before we dive in, let’s explore the basics of HPV and psoriasis.

What is HPV?

HPV is a virus with many different strains. Some of these strains can be spread from person to person through sexual contact. HPV affects people of all genders and can be transmitted through any form of sexual activity that includes skin-to-skin contact.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. According to the CDC, HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active people get the virus at some point in their lives.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) considers 14 strains of HPV to be high risk because they can cause cancer. Some low risk sexually transmitted HPV strains can lead to genital warts.

Cancers that can be caused by HPV include:

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Around 90 percent of anal cancers are caused by HPV. And people with HPV are 15 times more likely to develop throat cancer than people without HPV.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a disorder of the immune system. In psoriasis, the immune system malfunctions and causes an increase in inflammation, particularly in the skin. An overactive immune response causes skin cells to grow too quickly, causing them to pile up on the surface.

Psoriasis can lead to patches of skin that are:

  • inflamed, appearing red, pink, purple, or dark brown depending on your skin tone
  • scaly
  • itchy
  • sore
  • dry
  • cracked

A 2021 study estimated that 7.5 million adults in the United States have psoriasis. This is about 3 percent of the population.

The exact cause of psoriasis is unknown. Experts generally believe that psoriasis comes on due to some sort of triggering event in people who are genetically predisposed to the condition.

There’s currently no scientific evidence that the HPV vaccine increases your risk of developing psoriasis or any other immune condition.

People with HPV may actually have a slightly increased risk of developing psoriasis, according to a 2020 study. This means the HPV vaccine may actually decrease your risk of psoriasis.

To date, there have been no reports of psoriasis flares caused by the HPV vaccine.

During a flare-up, psoriasis symptoms become worse than usual. Flares can last for weeks or months, and symptoms sometimes disappear entirely between flares. Psoriasis flares are often triggered by something like an injury or infection.

Psoriasis is often treated with immunosuppressants, which weaken the immune system. Because of this, researchers have looked into the possibility that certain vaccines may pose a risk. But more research is needed.

A couple of very small studies have suggested a slightly increased risk of psoriasis flare-ups following the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine.

It’s important to note that the HPV vaccine does not contain any live virus.

Some vaccines include live viruses that help teach your immune system how to fight off the infection. These live viruses can sometimes lead to active infection in people taking immunosuppressants. Any sort of active infection can trigger a flare-up.

Other factors related to vaccination could potentially contribute to flares. Stress is one example. It’s possible that stress about receiving a vaccine or about being stuck with a needle may lead to a flare.

Injury or trauma to the skin may also lead to psoriasis symptoms in the affected area. This is called the Koebner phenomenon. It can happen after minor injuries like cuts and scrapes. It can also happen after injections.

What else can trigger a psoriasis flare?

Psoriasis flares can also be triggered by:

Infections can trigger autoimmune conditions like psoriasis. For example, strep throat has been associated with the beginning of psoriasis in some people. But the exact way that infections trigger autoimmunity is not known.

One of several possible explanations is that the immune system responds to some patterns on germs that may look a lot like those on healthy tissue. This may lead your immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissue.

A 2020 study looked at 66,274 people with HPV. It found that people with a history of HPV may be at a slightly increased risk of developing psoriasis. Unfortunately, this study was flawed in several ways.

Overall, more research in larger populations is needed to further investigate the potential link between HPV and psoriasis.

The HPV vaccine is safe. The most common side effects after getting the vaccine include:

In very rare circumstances, a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can happen. If you have a known allergy to any of the ingredients in the HPV vaccine, you should not get it.

The CDC recommends that all preteens ages 11 to 12 receive the HPV vaccine, although vaccination for HPV can begin as early as 9 years old. Kids in this age group need 2 vaccine doses, spaced 6 to 12 months apart.

Teens and young adults ages 15 to 26 can also be vaccinated. This age group will need three vaccine doses.

Doctors don’t typically recommend HPV vaccination for people over 26 years old, as most people in this age group have likely already been exposed to HPV.

However, getting the vaccine later in life can protect you from different strains of HPV. If you’re between 27 and 45 years old, discuss the benefits of the vaccine with your doctor. If you choose to be vaccinated, you will need three doses.

For the most part, people with psoriasis should receive the same vaccinations as everyone else. However, depending on the type of psoriasis treatment you’re receiving, your doctor may advise against certain vaccines.

Some psoriasis treatments aim to suppress the immune response, including:

When the immune system is weakened, it can leave you more susceptible to infections. It can also mean you’re at an increased risk of potentially serious side effects from live vaccines.

Live vaccines contain a weakened form of a germ that can still make copies of itself in the body. Examples include the:

These vaccines are not recommended for people undergoing treatment that suppresses the immune system. If you have not received them yet, your doctor may suggest getting them before your treatment starts.

Which vaccines are OK for everyone with psoriasis?

The following vaccines are not live vaccines and should be safe for people with psoriasis:

Only one HPV vaccine is currently in use in the United States. It’s called Gardasil 9, and it protects against nine strains of HPV that can cause cancer or genital warts.

There are many places where you may be able to get this vaccine. The first place to ask would be your primary care doctor’s office.

If your doctor doesn’t stock the HPV vaccine, you can ask them where you can receive one.

Some other locations where you may be able to get an HPV vaccine include:

  • OB-GYN offices
  • dermatology offices
  • retail pharmacies
  • urgent care centers
  • school or campus health clinics
  • community health clinics
  • state or local health departments

The HPV vaccine is both safe and effective. There’s currently no evidence that the HPV vaccine increases your risk of psoriasis or a psoriasis flare-up.

The HPV vaccine is important for preventing several types of cancer and genital warts. Experts recommend that preteens receive 2 doses of the HPV vaccine at ages 11 or 12. But anyone under 46 years old can get the HPV vaccine.

If you have concerns about HPV vaccination, be sure to discuss them with your doctor. They can help address any questions you may have.