The UK will switch to using Merck’s Gardasil vaccine instead of GlaxoSmithKline’s rival product Cervarix to prevent girls from contracting the HPV virus, which can cause cervical cancer.

Sanofi Pasteur MSD, a joint venture between Merck and French drug maker Sanofi, won the bid to supply the vaccine in the next school year in a competitive tendering process, the Department of Health announced yesterday.

GlaxoSmithKline, whose vaccine was introduced into the national immunisation programme in September 2008 for girls aged 12-13, opted not to bid in the process because the government had made clear it wanted a vaccine offering broader protection.

Gardasil protects against the two strains of HPV virus that cause more than 70% of cervical cancer in England, and two other strains of the bug that cause 90% of genital warts.

Cervarix prevents the contraction of the two cancer strains only.

The government’s director of immunisation Professor David Salisbury said, "It’s not unusual for the NHS to change vaccines or other medicines – it can happen following competitive tendering exercises or when new research findings come to light.

"We have one of the best HPV vaccination programmes in the world and we want that success to continue. It will be tremendous to see rates of cervical cancer falling."