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High demand for free cancer vaccine in N.H.

/ Source: The Associated Press

Demand for the vaccine against cervical cancer is outstripping supply as New Hampshire offers the shots for free, leading some providers to create waiting lists.

However, the state has no plans to accelerate its distribution program, a public health official said Monday.

“We expected all along there would be an initial demand, but there is a finite amount of resources,” said Greg Moore, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. “This program is going to take a significant part of our budget over the next four years.”

New Hampshire was the first state to approve free distribution of the Gardasil vaccine, which protects against four strains of a sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus, or HPV, that can cause cervical cancer.

The program started in January and the state expected to vaccinate only about one-quarter of eligible girls this year, but advertising has stimulated demand, said state Public Health Director Mary Ann Cooney.

“I’ve got to say that the public is clamoring for it,” said Dr. Elizabeth Sanders of Sanders Family Medicine in Concord.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the vaccine for girls and women ages 9 to 26. The state’s free vaccine is available only through age 18.

About half of all men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency recommends that girls get the vaccine when they are 11 or 12 so they will have immunity before they become sexually active.

Bills have been introduced in about 20 states to require the vaccine but some have backed off because of safety concerns and protests from conservatives who say requiring it promotes promiscuity and erodes parents’ rights.

People seeking the vaccine outside New Hampshire’s free program typically pay about $360 for the three required shots, spread out over six months.

Because of the high demand, some medical practices, like Penacook Family Physicians, have developed a priority list of patients who should get the vaccine first. Others, like Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Concord, encourage parents to see if their health insurance will pay in order to reduce demand for free vaccinations.