Mass. Would Offer Cancer Vaccine Free

Every Massachusetts girl between the ages of 9 and 18 would be eligible to receive a free vaccine against the virus that causes cervical cancer under Gov. Deval Patrick's budget proposal.

However, the shots would not be mandatory, an aide to the governor said.

The budget plan, to be unveiled Tuesday, also includes funding for a new rotavirus vaccine for infants and an improved bacterial meningitis vaccine for children. The cost to the state for all three would be $24.8 million.

'These investments not only save lives but also reduce treatment costs in the future,' Patrick said in a statement Sunday.

Supporters of the vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV, say it will help fight a cancer that kills 3,700 American women each year. But proposals to require the vaccine have inflamed some conservatives who say it could encourage sexual activity in preteens and teens.

Texas is the only state to make the vaccine mandatory for schoolgirls. Gov Rick Perry bypassed the legislature with an executive order, but lawmakers are considering overriding it. A group of families also has sued.

A bill that would make the vaccine mandatory in Virginia is under consideration by the governor.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.