The vaccine will be available in the U.S. by this month end

WASHINGTON: Women for the first time have a vaccine to protect themselves against cervical cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday licensed the vaccine, Gardasil, for use in girls and women ages 9 to 26. The vaccine works by preventing infection by four of the dozens of strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

The vaccine will be available by the end of the month, with a three-shot series costing $360 (euro285).

Its manufacturer, Merck & Co. Inc., seeks similar approval elsewhere around the world.

The FDA said that Gardasil appeared very safe.

Merck will monitor its long-term effectiveness. The company also continues to study whether the vaccine is safe and effective in males.

Merck intends to market Gardasil as a cancer, rather than an STD, vaccine. Analysts believe Gardasil sales could top $1 billion (euro790 million) a year for Merck. AP