NEWARK, N.J. - New Jersey will guarantee free H1N1 flu vaccines to the state's 1.3 million uninsured residents and will try to remove all "financial barriers" for others who wants the shot, Gov. Corzine said yesterday.

The announcement came as students return to school and the state prepares for an expected spike in H1N1 flu cases in the coming months.

"We're going to be making the H1N1 vaccine, if it's proven to be safe and effective, available to anyone who wants it," state Health Commissioner Heather Howard said.

Shots for the H1N1 virus are still being tested, but the vaccine is expected to be shipped to New Jersey by mid-October. So far, 17 people in the state have died from the H1N1 virus. Health officials still trace the most serious cases but stopped monitoring all positive results after they reached 1,000.

New Jersey recently received $16 million from the federal government to help combat pandemic influenza. Corzine said the state would use that to help pay for the shots.

Corzine and Howard also said that the state was trying to ensure that all schoolchildren and other high-risk groups - pregnant women, babies, and those with underlying medical conditions - receive the vaccine free if they can't afford it.

H1N1 shots will be available at county health clinics and through flu clinics at drugstores, Howard said. The state also is working to make sure insured residents who cannot afford co-pays or deductibles are able to get the shot free.

Federal health authorities have pushed the idea of school vaccine clinics for months. Corzine said each of New Jersey's nearly 600 school districts would decide whether to offer H1N1 shots at school.

"We're not like NYC where we have one big school district," he said. On Wednesday, New York City announced that it will offer the vaccines free to its 1 million-plus schoolchildren.

New Jersey districts also will decide whether to close a school when someone has become infected, though Corzine said that would be less likely than when the H1N1 flu first broke out.

"The major lesson that not only New Jersey learned, but the rest of the country learned, is that the rush to close schools is probably not the right policy," he said.

"When you close schools, often kids congregate and you actually end up with the same result you would have had by spreading the virus anyway."