A UK grandmother has become the first person in the world to be given the Pfizer Covid-19 jab as part of a mass vaccination programme.
Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, said it was the “best early birthday present”.
She was given the injection at 06:31 GMT – the first of 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that will be dispensed in the coming weeks.
Up to four million more are expected by the end of the month.
Hubs in the UK will vaccinate over-80s and some health and care staff – the programme aims to protect the most vulnerable and return life to normal.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has dubbed Tuesday V-day, said this simple act of vaccination was “a tribute to scientific endeavour and human ingenuity and to the hard work of so many people.
“Today marks the start of the fightback against our common enemy, the coronavirus,” he said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on a visit to a London hospital to see some of the first people getting the jab, said getting vaccinated was “good for you and good for the whole country”.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Today we should all allow ourselves a smile – but we must not drop our guard.”
On Tuesday, the UK government reported a further 616 people had died within 28 days of a positive test, taking the total by that measure to 62,033. A further 12,282 people tested positive for the virus.
At University Hospital, Coventry, matron May Parsons administered the very first jab to Ms Keenan.
“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19,” Ms Keenan, who is originally from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, said.
“It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year.
“My advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it. If I can have it at 90, then you can have it too,” she added.
Prof Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, who witnessed the “historic moment”, said: “We couldn’t hug her but we could clap and everybody did so in the room.”
The second person vaccinated in Coventry was William Shakespeare, 81, from Warwickshire, who said he was “pleased” to be given the jab and hospital staff had been “wonderful”.
Throughout the day, patients and health workers at some 50 hospitals around the UK have been getting the jab:
- Sister Joanna Sloan, who will head up the vaccine rollout in Belfast, received the first vaccine administered in Northern Ireland, just after 08:00 GMT at the Royal Victoria Hospital
- In Wales, a nervous Craig Atkins, 48, from Ebbw Vale, became the first person to get the jab. It was “scary” but he could smile now, the care home worker said
- Consultant anaesthetist Dr Katie Stewart was among the first people in Scotland to get the jab, saying there was something to celebrate after “a very long hard year” looking after Covid patients and staying apart to protect each other
The UK is the first country in the world to start using the Pfizer vaccine after regulators approved its use last week.
On Tuesday, US regulators confirmed the vaccine is 95% effective, paving the way for it to be approved for emergency use.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has also been found to be “safe and effective”, according to a paper published on Tuesday and assessed by independent scientists.
Speaking in the Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock stressed people did not need to apply for the vaccine – the NHS would be in touch with those eligible and he urged them to “please step forward for your country”.
Mr Hancock went on to warn that even while we can see the route out, there was “still a long march ahead”, saying there were “worrying signs” of the virus growing in Essex, London and Kent.
More than 60,000 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a Covid-19 test, but there are signs the UK could be at the peak of the pandemic’s second wave.
New data released by national statisticians for the week ending 27 November showed that of the 14,106 deaths registered, nearly 3,400 involved Covid.
This is 20% higher than the five-year average but is similar to the percentages seen in the past two weeks.
On a visit to London’s Guy’s Hospital, Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to 81-year-old Lyn Wheeler, who was the first to receive the vaccine there.
“It is really very moving to hear her say she is doing it for Britain, which is exactly right – she is protecting herself but also helping to protect the entire country,” Mr Johnson said.
Earlier, the prime minister thanked the NHS and “all of the scientists who worked so hard to develop this vaccine”, the volunteers and “everyone who has been following the rules to protect others”.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said it was “absolutely fabulous” to see people getting the vaccine and thanked everyone involved in making it happen.
Some 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have been secured by the government to be administered in the coming weeks – although vaccination is not compulsory.
Orders have been placed for 40 million in total – enough for 20 million people, as two courses are needed.
However, most of that is not expected to become available until next year, although government sources said another four million doses should arrive in the country by the end of this month.
Mr Hancock said he expected it to take “several weeks” to get the first group of health workers, care staff and over-80s vaccinated.
Patients over 80 attending hospital as an outpatient, or being discharged home after a hospital stay, will be among the first to receive the jab. Care home providers have been asked to book staff in for vaccinations, and GPs are expected to begin vaccinating care home residents shortly.