A Rotorua nurse says parents who choose not to vaccinate their daughters against cervical cancer for fear it will promote promiscuity have their "heads in the sand".

Yesterday the Government confirmed it will spend $164.2 million over the next five years on a cervical cancer immunisation programme.

Free but not mandatory, it aims to reduce cervical cancer in New Zealand by protecting girls against the human papilloma virus (HPV).

The virus is a sexually transmitted infection which can develop into genital warts and cervical cancer. About 160 New Zealand women each year are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Of those, 60 women die.

To be effective, the vaccine Gardasil will be offered to girls as young as 12, or before they are sexually active.

Teenage girls aged 17 and 18 will be offered the vaccine from September.

From early next year, girls aged between 12 and 18 will be offered the vaccine at school. Three doses will be administered over a six-month period. The programme will be ongoing for Year 8 (aged 12 to 13 years) through nurses in schools.

Details of exactly how the immunisation programme will be rolled out to Rotorua schools is yet to be finalised.

Rotorua General Practice Group immunisation co-ordinator Sue Taft said it would be extra work for local nurses, especially in the first year.

"It is a big commitment but we've stepped up to the challenge before in the same way we rolled out the meningococcal B vaccine."

Vaccines to protect against HPV are available now but parents must pay the full cost, ranging between $450 and $600 for three doses.

Ministry of Health officials say the vaccine is safe based on clinical trials involving 11,000 young women from 13 countries.

Trials have shown it protects against most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts.

The vaccine's critics, including parents lobby group Family First, say it will encourage under-age girls to have sex.

But Ms Taft said those concerns weren't warranted and parents who ignored the health messages had their "heads in the sand."

"This vaccine will protect girls for the future in the same way the Rubella vaccine protects babies in the future."

Messages about abstinence and delaying sexual activity were important but it was equally important to protect women from contracting the virus which could lead to cervical cancer, she said. Rotorua MP Steve Chadwick, who is an associate health minister, said it was still important for women who get the vaccine to take part in a cervical screening programme and have regular smears.

"While this vaccine protects against the most common causes of cervical cancer, it does not protect against all the causes.

"However, we do expect it to save 30 lives a year and see a reduction in the number of abnormal smear results, which means that fewer women will have to go through the stress of receiving an abnormal smear result, as well as of the extra tests, diagnoses, and invasive procedures which can follow such a result."

On top of the $164.2 million in new money, the Ministry of Health will spend up to another $13 million from within its baseline to the programme, making the total five-year investment about $177 million.

CANCER VACCINE: The Government is funding the vaccine Gardasil:

*It will protect against HPV, a virus causing genital warts and cervical cancer that is spread by sexual activity

*It will be offered free to teenage girls aged 17 and 18 from September

*From early next year, it will be offered to girls 12 to 18.

*Three doses will be given over six months.