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Older girls offered cancer vaccine

Vaccinations to protect against cervical cancer will be offered to girls aged 17 to 18, the Department of Health has said.

The new vaccination programme is now available to an extra 300,000 girls between the age of 17 and 18 who, under original plans, were not to be given the treatment. This figure has been extended from girls aged 12 to 13 who will receive routine vaccination.

From September, girls in these age groups will be given three doses of Cervarix in injection form in school over a period of six months, which "should last a lifetime", Alison Langley, a Department of Health spokesperson said.

She added: "Because the vaccine is brand new we can't guarantee that it will last a lifetime but we think that it should."

In addition, a two year "catch-up programme" will begin in the school year 2009/10 effectively meaning that all young women aged between 12 and 18 can be vaccinated, although they can choose to opt out.

Dawn Primarolo, Public Health Minister, said: "Our policy to vaccinate girls against cervical cancer is one of the biggest public health campaigns in recent history. It will mean that up to 400 girls' lives will be saved each year.

The vaccine aims to work against the two strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes 70% of cases of cervical cancer.

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