All Secondary 1 girls in national schools, including madrasahs, will be offered free vaccination from next month to protect them against cervical cancer.
About 200 women get the cancer each year and 70 die from it, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday.
She added: "This cancer, which is caused by infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV), can be prevented with vaccination and screening."
The vaccine protects women against common HPV strains, which primarily cause cervical cancer, but can also cause vulva, vaginal and anal cancers.
As a one-time catch-up, the offer will be progressively extended to all girls currently studying in secondary schools. Those of similar age studying in private education institutes will also be offered free vaccination, if they are Singapore residents.
This is an opt-in scheme.
The Government has put aside $10 million for this year, and $2.5 million annually from next year.
Singapore has picked the second oldest of three HPV vaccines on the market, Cervarix, which protects against HPV strains 16 and 18, which account for 70 per cent of cervical cancers.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) told The Straits Times that Cervarix was selected based on factors such as efficacy, price and stock availability.
Its spokesman added: "MOH is evaluating Gardasil 9 to compare it to the other two HPV vaccines. If found to be cost-effective in the local setting compared to Cervarix or Gardasil, MOH will consider offering Gardasil 9."
Gardasil 9, the only HPV vaccine used in the United States, protects against nine strains that account for 90 per cent of cervical cancers.
HPV is generally transmitted during sex, and the vaccine is recommended before females become sexually active.
Girls who are 14 years and younger need two doses of the vaccine, while those 15 years and older require three doses.
The first dose will be given in Secondary 1 and the second dose the following year. A third dose will be given to older students. The vaccination will be done in school.
Depending on the vaccine used and the age of the person, cost ranges from about $300 to more than $700 for the full course of two or three doses.
Up to $500 from Medisave can be used for two of the HPV vaccines, for females between the ages of nine and 26 years.
More than 70 countries, including Brunei and Malaysia, have included the HPV vaccine in their national immunisation programme.
Women who have had the vaccine will still need to go for regular Pap smear tests to check for cervical cancers, since the vaccine does not protect against all strains.
The ministry also announced that it will be adopting a more accurate cervical cancer test, which will allow women to be tested every five years, instead of every three years.
"The better test will cost more, but the Government will provide more subsidies, so the cost to women will be the same in the long run," said Dr Khor.
Correction note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Cervarix is the second oldest of three HPV vaccines on the market, and that up to $500 from Medisave can be used for two of the HPV vaccines. We are sorry for the errors.