Scottish schoolgirls yesterday became the first in the UK to be immunised with the new vaccine against cervical cancer.

Around 90,000 youngsters - mostly between the ages of 12 and 13 - are expected to receive the vaccine this month, as part of the country's first mass anti-cancer vaccination programme.

The Cervarix jab works by targeting the human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. The virus causes around 70% of cases of cervical cancer and kills more than 1000 women in the UK - including 100 in Scotland - each year.

The programme was announced in October last year and will eventually see all girls up to the age of 18 offered the vaccination.

Scottish schools are the first to implement the programme because pupils here started back sooner than the rest of the UK. Schools in other parts of the UK are expected to roll out the programme in the coming weeks.

Yesterday, Abronhill High in Cumbernauld made history by becoming the first Scottish school to administer the vaccine to 90 girls.

Schoolgirl Paige Butterfield, 16, said she was keen to get the injection and relieved to be given the chance to do something that would reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

"When I heard about Jade Goody and what happened to her it really brought it home to me because she is so young," she said.

"I definitely wanted to get the jab because I thought maybe if she had the opportunity that we have it might have prevented her cancer, but she never got the chance. Its great that our school can set an example for other girls."

Headteacher Walter Hayburn looked on as pupils queued up to receive their jab behind screens in the school hall from a small team of NHS nurses.

He said: "We are very proud to be the first school to start immunising our students. We have and always will be a health promoting school and we often work in partnership with the NHS. Part of that partnership is taking part in this programme and we are delighted to support the campaign.

"There has been a very positive reaction from parents and they were all very keen to have their daughters immunised. The health of the girls is paramount and if we have an opportunity to prevent at least one case of cervical cancer we would gladly take it and encourage our girls to take it."

The vaccine, given in three doses over a six-month period, is the most expensive to be routinely offered by the NHS, costing around £300 for a full course.

Some fears have been expressed that the vaccination programme would cause fewer women to attend screening, while questions have been asked about why so much money is being spent on saving the lives of fewer than 100 Scottish women a year.

However, the vaccine, which is not compulsory, is expected to revolutionise the approach to beating the disease and smear-testing will continue even after the vaccine is introduced. This is because of the gap between the age of vaccination and age of first screening and because the jab does not protect against all HPV types that may cause the cancer. Around 200,000 women a year in the UK have pre-cancerous changes to their cervix picked up through smear tests.

Chloe Freeburn, 16, said it was good to have the facilities in place at school to get the injection.

"It's been really easy and convenient to just take a few minutes out of class and come and get a tiny jab that could really save your life. My parents have been very supportive and wanted me to get the injection. It was no more painful than any other jab and although I was a bit nervous I'm fine now. I think taking responsibility for your health is the mature thing to do."

Dr David Cromie, Consultant in Public Health Medicine for NHS Lanarkshire, said the immunisation programme would allow greater numbers to be protected against cervical cancer. He said: "The uptake tends to be a lot higher through schools like Abronhill. It's harder to get people when they go off to university or college, this method is more efficient and it means we are targeting the girls at the right age."

The vaccine is already widely used in Europe and the US.