New Hampshire announced plans Wednesday to become the first state to offer the new cervical-cancer vaccine free to all girls. Beginning in January, the vaccine against the human papilloma virus, or HPV, will be provided to girls ages 11 through 18 as part of a state program that offers various immunizations to children at no cost.
The program is paid for by the federal government and insurance companies.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine in June for girls as young as 9. It prevents infection from some strains of HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Cervical cancer is the No. 2 cancer killer in women.
"We cannot overstate the huge breakthrough in this vaccine," New Hampshire Public Health Director Mary Ann Cooney said.
State officials hope about 17,000 girls — a quarter of those eligible — will come forward for the vaccinations next year.
Officials want to vaccinate girls before they become sexually active, because the vaccine does not protect those who have already been exposed to HPV.
"Some say giving the vaccination to 11-year-old girls is a license to promiscuity. I disagree," New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen said. He urged abstinence, noting that the vaccine will not protect girls from other sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, or from getting pregnant.
A total of $4.8 million has been budgeted for the vaccine next year.