The HPV vaccine: a warning

UPDATE: For those who are finding this post through HPV-related Internet searches – there is a great visualization of how safe Gardasil (the HPV US brand) is to use. Check out here: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2009/how-safe-is-the-hpv-vaccine/

I had my first HPV vaccine shot two weeks ago. The vaccine prevents you from getting some strains of the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer. I took the UK brand Cervarix, which is P3,000 per shot at Asian Hospital.

While I’m not a fan of needles, I tolerate them pretty well, and all this year I’ve been having shots (for Hepa B and flu) so I wasn’t scared of it. When I asked my doctor about the HPV vaccine, she said there would be no complications or side effects, and it would hurt only as much as any regular shot.

Not true.

A regular shot (let’s say a flu shot) hurts for a few seconds, and then the day after there’s a small bruise where the needle went in. It’s no big deal – in fact, I usually forget that I had a shot and wonder why my arm was slightly sore.

The HPV shot fucking hurts. I had my HPV shot at 4pm on a Thursday. At 7pm, I could no longer move my right arm – the pain was intense, and all over my arm, enough for me to beg off work that night because I couldn’t type. I woke up the next day only to find that the pain had gotten worse. I couldn’t move my right arm without wincing. It hurt for four days. At the worst points, a wrong move could lead me to tears. My right arm also LOOKED bruised – there was a big splotch of darkness on my upper arm, like I had been beaten up. And really, that’s what it felt like. I’m no wuss, so believe me when I say that if it hurts enough to make me miserable, it really does fucking hurt.

At first I was worried – what on earth had I done to myself? But when I looked it up on the Web, I found that many women around the world had the same complaint. One woman whose pain tolerance was really high (she had tattoos on her chest) actually screamed in pain when the shot went in. Another brand of vaccine, Gardasil, causes fainting in young girls right after the shot. And a lot of us had the same debilitating pain that prevented us from working, driving, or doing anything else. I found out later that my friend’s aunt couldn’t shower or change clothes properly for two days because of the pain. Wikipedia mentions that the pain from Cervarix usually lasts 3.3 days on average.

If I had known this ahead of time, I’d have planned for it – I’d take the vaccine on a weekend or just before, so I could just stay home and rest. Next time, I plan to do just that, and will also have it done on my left arm instead of my right. I’ve got two shots to go, but at least I’m prepared now. What bothers me is that so few women in the Philippines have taken the HPV vaccine, so this pain isn’t common knowledge. (Aside from my friend’s aunt, I know nobody else who has taken this shot – probably because of the cost.)

Don’t get me wrong, I still recommend the HPV vaccine to all women (26 years old and below). A few days of pain wins over a lifetime of cancer. But I’m warning you – it hurts. Big time. (If it doesn’t hurt for you, well, lucky you.)


PS I’d have taken a pic of my bruised arm, except I didn’t want it to become one of those gross medical photos on Wikipedia.

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55 thoughts on “The HPV vaccine: a warning

  1. It’s good that you posted about this! Public service announcement for the win.

    As more people become aware of the need for the vaccine and decide to take it, there’s a good chance that their doctors, like yours, might not anticipate the severe pain reaction involved. They should be forewarned.

  2. moongirl says:

    Dants: Did you see people’s reactions on Facebook? Apparently I’m the only one so far that got bruised up like that. What the hell? Am I a weakling? O_O

  3. I saw just now. Hmm, maybe it really depends on the individual? The shot may cause different reactions in specific people. If that’s the case, then you unluckily have the reaction that leads to pain and bruising. 😦

    • Alec says:

      My sister and I both got the same hpv shots. The only difference is that she barely hurt and had had no blood. I had mine and cried when the needle went in. I bled enough to soak the bandaid. It’s been about 12 hours and it hurts to move my arm a lot. I don’t know what the difference is between us.

  4. EEEEEP!!!

    To think I developed a fear of needles after I was hospitalized.

    I think I’ll be having that on my next checkup. Dear God I hope painkillers can help

  5. Rheine says:

    I got my 3rd HPV shot, and it did hurt for the first 5 minutes, but now I’m fine. Maybe not all of us has the same feeling on getting the HPV shot.

  6. Darlene says:

    I’ve had all three of my HPV shots and I’m glad I did. My first shot burned a little when it went it and my arm was sore for a few hours (kinda like my tetanus shot I got in my other arm) but I didn’t have any problem with the last two. On my last visit to get my third shot, I got my meningitis vaccination and a measles booster. Just be sure to relax your arm. I like to keep all my vaccinations up to date and plan to get a flu shot soon.

  7. Linda says:

    My daughters just had her first jab this afternoon and arm feels like lead, it feels badly bruised and she can’t lift it much more than six inches! Surely all three jabs arnt this bad? Is this normal and does anyone else have these symptoms?

  8. moongirl says:

    Hi Linda,

    A lot of women don’t seem to have strong reactions – but I did. I’ve had two shots. The first one hurt REALLY bad, and only got better after four days. The second one did not hurt so much, though it still hurt for a few days.

    I told my doctor about it; she said it really depends on the person receiving the shots, but I was her first patient with that kind of pain. I’ve also heard that Gardasil hurts more; I was using another brand.

    On the web, people say you can take Advil to help you w/ the pain, or maybe use a warm compress on the first day. Hope that helps.

  9. Linda says:

    Thank you so so much that’s put my mind at rest, her arms quite bruised this morning but I let my daughter read yr comment and it’s helped us both. Thanks for helping a very anxious mummy xxx

  10. Jessica S says:

    i got my first HPV two days ago, it wasnt as bad as i thought it would be, eventhough it did hurt but only for a split second. but after a few hours, a bruise appeard, and now my arm KILLS everytime i do certain movements with it. im just wondering if the second jab will do the same??? hmmm. x

    • Lisa says:

      We are on here because people obviously are getting negative side effects. We have the experience of getting shots and this isn’t normal. If this doesn’t apply to you, your negative input isn’t needed.

  11. justsomeone says:

    i found this through searching about the HPV shot and pain because mine is excruciating. it has been exactly 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS since i got my first and (possibly) only HPV shot and my leg STILL hurts sooooo bad even when i get into my car. i’ve lost so much weight and muscle because i cannot dance and haven’t danced at all in 3 weeks. i don’t have a rash or bruising or nausea like others are reporting but the pain was SO immense when i got the shot and only got worse and worse afterward. maybe that’s just me, or maybe the nurse hit a nerve because i tensed up after that thick needle when into my skin. could have been my own fault, but i am so upset that i wasn’t more prepared and educated about this before i got it. thanks for posting this. i’m still not sure if i’m going to finish out the vaccination.

  12. justsomeone says:

    oh, and to that totally awesome ass 12 year old above me, i’m 20 years old and mine hurt like a bitch. everyone’s body is different and feels different when poked or bothered. maybe that’s why some people are ticklish and others aren’t, freak.

  13. Jess says:

    I am 14 and had my 1st jab and it didnt hurt, just a little heavy feeling. Do the other two jabs hurt more or less than the first one ?

    • moongirl says:

      Jess: I don’t think the second or third shot should be any different from the first, unless your nurse/doctor does it improperly (e.g. hits a nerve). Hopefully not πŸ™‚ My second shot actually hurt less than the first.

  14. Nobelyn says:

    hello moongirl

    it’s my first injection of hpv vaccine yesterday,and it’s really hurt huhuhu and last night i was cried bec. everytime i move my left arm so really bad hurt huhuhu
    my doctor told me pahiran lng ng ice.
    pero ok din ba kung warm water at ipahid pahid lng ng towel??
    pero ano ang mas mabuti ang ice o medyo mainit na tubig ang ipahid?at anong tableta an pwedeng e take pra mwala ang sakit at anong tableta?

  15. allie says:

    my first two felt like average injection just like a little prick in the arm but my third hurt alot more and has left a bruise which is still here a week later anyone know why? Also iv been diagnosed as anemic and hav been taking iron tablets and now when i hav blood taken it leaves a huge bruise which lasts weeks!?

  16. Alice says:

    Finally someone tells the truth ive only gotten the shot once my second is tomorrow and im dreading it the pain was hard im glad im off school so i can just rest and im annoyed of how people call me a wuss. The pain stings like heck and i hate embarrassing myself in front of the doctors( due to my groans and moans of pain) i hate it but this is only my 2 so sadly i have to look forward to one more and im terrified and my arm also did bruise my mom just said it was cause i was moving but i really dont think so. also i have a question do you need the 3 one or is it optional?

    • moongirl says:

      Alice: No, it’s not optional – you really do need to take the three. My second and third did not hurt as much as the first, so hopefully it will be better for you, too. Maybe we’re just unlucky 😐

  17. Lin says:

    I had a shot of Gardasil last week. I fainted when the nurse was almost done. They said my face was as white as a paper. Last thing I saw was them running around trying to help me. I was better after they carried me to rest in bed for about 10 mins. I’m so scared of the 2nd shot 😦

  18. skyeblue says:

    Ya,Im ion middle school and i got the shot and let me tell you,IT DOES HURT.I have a low pain tolerance(VERY LOW)soo i screamed when iwent in…the guy i liked watched me do tha and said i was a wimpop because i couldent take a needle…well he was damn lucky he dident get that one

    • moongirl says:

      Hi Molly,

      From what I’ve read, the HPV vaccine doesn’t hurt for everyone. I have friends who got through all three just fine. I guess it depends on the brand you’re using and also how your body reacts to it. Good luck and I hope it’ll be much better than you think!

  19. Dear Moongirl
    HPV vaccine contains ASO4 which is one of adjuvant. If it was injected at wrong area, it could intake into intra-articular area.
    I have three patients with acute shoulder arthritis following HPV vaccine shot in Japan.
    Your blog is very fruitful for us. Thank you for all comments.
    Regards,

  20. Lisa says:

    I just received my second dose of the vaccine today. I get mine administered in the leg and find that all these side effects do not occur. I have had other vaccines administered in both my arms and legs and will now only take injections in my upper legs because of the difference in pain and side effects. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer earlier this year and was advised to get the HPV vaccine to protect myself against the other 3 strains of the 4 that the vaccine is meant for.

    I have not read through the other comments, but I suggest getting it done in your leg next time. I am horribly afraid of needles and this is the only way I can do it.

  21. Yew says:

    Thanks for sharing the experience of HPV vaccine injection. My girlfriend had an injection a few days ago, but I’m not sure which brand she was injected with. She complains of the pain and bruises and I was getting a little bit worried. Now I’m relieve to know that this is quite normal for HPV vaccine injection. However, I still think that skills of the nurses/Medical Officers are quite important for this injection. I’m not sure, but so far this is the only injection that I came across that can cause pain and bruise for days. Anyway, really thank you for sharing the experiences, appreciate it a lot.

  22. Bonnie says:

    I got the last of the 3 series of shots a couple of months ago and I am one glad that I did it and also wish I hadnt done it. I’m glad I did it because I feel like I am protected from cervical cancer. On the other hand I hate that I did it because ever since I recieved the first shot my arm has been hurting at the injection site and also on my wrist. I can only move it to a certain point til it hurts. I cant even put any weight on it or lift anything heavy. I have to tell my daughter to jump for me to pick her up to carry her or else I cant lift her! I’m 24 and the pain has not gone away and somehow I dont think it will. =(

  23. kath says:

    I got my 1st vaccine last saturday, May 26. I never experienced any bruises or numbness on my arm but on the next day I got stomachache and diarrhea. When I checked in online (the side effects of HPV vaccine) I found out that one of the side effects are the one I’m experiencing now (Stomachache and diarrhea). However, when I asked my OB she told me that there were no side effects on the vaccine maybe I just ate something. But how come I am the only one in my family experience such pains when we ate same foods with them…even my 5 yr old son never feel anything…=(
    I’m wondering if there are other women who experience what I am experiencing now…

  24. Korinski says:

    I had my first shot yesterday, i can’t lift my arm. It’s quite painful. I’m not soo looking forward for d 2nd shot next month. This blog is very useful. The doctor didn’t even warn me. The vaccine is quite pricey here in singapore, i paid sgd 340 (368 including VAT, around php 12k.

  25. Gemmalyn says:

    I got my first shot yesterday. My arm was fine I can move around,i can lift heavy things and work. I’m not sure if i’d experience the same way the next few days. Well,let me observe it by myself. I don’t know why i didn’t felt any pain. Thanks God for that! I hope the last two shots are the same. By the way,Gardasil was the brand the Doctor injected.

  26. Tessa says:

    I got my First HPV yesterday as well as a chicken pock shot, wih hurt but the hpv one didn’t really hurt. But today the chicken pox didn’t hurt at all and the hpv hurt so bad! I woke up with t rlly sore and now there’s a big red mark all around it and its kinda swollen. I also have basketball practice all week and its tryouts too. How long do you think this will last? It also hurts to raise my arm in the air

  27. Our short communication in Vaccine (Journal ) has been cited online. Please refer this URL.
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X12015356
    We revealed adverse effect following improper HPV vaccination. β–Ί A Cervarixβ„’ injection close to the acromion could result in severe and persistent complications that resisted conventional treatments. β–Ί It was effectively treated with arthroscopic surgery. β–Ί We believe that this case report will allow more clinicians to make that putative link.

  28. Katie says:

    I JUST had my 2nd Gardasil shot on Wednesday; I’m 26; I don’t recall my first one hurting too bad, but I had a tetanus shot at the same time; this one though hurt SO bad! I was still wincing after about 10 seconds when the nurse asked if I was “okay”, to which I asked “if the needle was still in” because I tell you what, it felt like it was.

    It felt sore after that, but I didn’t have the issues described above. I DO however, have a nice bruise on my arm from it. I don’t recall ever bruising from a shot.

    To me, the needle looked much thicker than one used in a normal shot. I think that’s what caused my pain, not the shot itself.

  29. picklemonster says:

    I got my first dose today, it was Cervarix. At first when the needle went in, it was just a slight pinch and for 2 seconds, I was like “oh wow, this is nothing!”, and then an intense (and I mean INTENSE) pain shot up. I found it almost unbearable. It was this very sharp stinging sensation that made me want to jerk my arm away from the needle as a reflex. HPV vaccine hurt so much because the needle actually goes into your muscle, and damn did I feel it. Right now, it’s a bit swollen around the area, and if I touch it anywhere from a 3cm radius, I will literally scream like a hyena. IT HURTS LIKE A B!TCH!!! >:'(

  30. Rose says:

    I am deeply afraid of needles, but my mother insisted I get this vaccine. I talked with my doctor about my hesitance, and she used a freezing/numbing spray and I hardly felt the needle. I recommend getting vaccinated!

  31. Kylie Bester says:

    I am thirteen. And got this shot twice.. And it hurt a little. It was nothing major. And I am a sensitive person who actually cant take much pain! So I am not sure. Are you sure you got the Hpv vaccine? The part that hurt the most was just my muscle, But some people felt dizzy. So we got juice boxs and the dizzy ness went away. Well I hope that bruise heals up. πŸ™‚

  32. Louise says:

    I’m 15 and had it yesterday. Mine actually hurt quite a bit when it went in and hurt more when the medicine came in. Felt a bit like the needle was trying to push through my muscle or something- like a poking pressure. After that it hurt for maybe 2 minutes or less and now my arm is just a little stiff- sort of like when you do lots of push-ups and get a muscle ache. πŸ™‚
    Good luck to anyone getting it, remember that it won’t last forever and it’s for a great cause :))

  33. Grace says:

    I had gotten my first of three hpv shot today and my arm hurts so bad I can’t even pick up stuff or even type without being in extreme pain but there’s no bruise..at least not yet. Tomorrow is my first day of high school and I don’t know how I’m going to write or do anything.

  34. Maria says:

    Unlike you I don’t have a good pain tolerance, bit I’ve never had such a bad reaction to any other vaccine. After getting the gardisil vaccine I fainted both times (I’ve had 2 doses so far) and afterwards I couldn’t even lift my arm to take my shirt off. I HAD TO CUT MY SHIRT OFF. My advice would to bring something like orange juice and drink it immediately after to keep your blood sugar up and hopefully you won’t faint. Also wear and button up shirt so you don’t have to cut it off.

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