A 90-year-old grandmother has become the world’s first patient to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.
Margaret Keenan was first in line to receive the jab at Coventry Hospital early on Tuesday morning, as dozens of hospital hubs across the country gear up to deliver millions of vaccines, and was soon followed by William Shakespeare from Warwickshire.
Wearing a bright blue Christmas t-shirt in support of the NHS, Keenan, who has lived in Coventry for over 60 years after moving from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, and will be 91 next week, said: “I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19, 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.”
The retired jewellery shop assistant, who was given the jab by nurse May Parsons amid emotional scenes at her local hospital, added: “I can’t thank May and the NHS staff enough who have looked after me tremendously, and my advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it – if I can have it at 90 then you can have it too.”
Meanwhile, health secretary Matt Hancock said the start of the roll out of the vaccine meant there was “finally” a “way through” the coronavirus crisis.
He told Sky News: “I’m feeling quite emotional actually watching those pictures. It has been such a tough year for so many people and finally we have our way through it – our light at the end of the tunnel as so many people are saying.
“And just watching Margaret there – it seems so simple having a jab in your arm, but that will protect Margaret and it will protect the people around her.
“And if we manage to do that in what is going to be one of the biggest programmes in NHS history, if we manage to do that for everybody who is vulnerable to this disease then we can move on.”
Hancock also said that he hoped that care home residents would start getting the vaccine before Christmas, and stated the government had no intention of issuing immunity passports – adding that the vaccine cards being issued to patients were “standard NHS reminder cards” for the follow-up appointment for the second dose.
Boris Johnson also marked the occasion by thanking the NHS, the scientists who developed the vaccine, the volunteers and “everyone who has been following the rules to protect others.”
Scottish first minister tweeted that footage of Keenan had left her with “a lump in the throat”, describing the start of the vaccination programme as a “milestone moment” in the fight against the virus.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “It was really, really emotional, I can’t tell you just how much emotion there was in that vaccination centre.
“This is a truly historic day, a turning point in this pandemic, another world-first for the NHS, the start of the largest vaccination programme in our history.”
During the interview Powis was also asked what his message was to people who might have concerns over the vaccine.
He said: “Vaccination is one of the safest forms of medicine.”
He added: “We know they work. This one has been tested in many thousands of people in clinical trials.
“And, of course, the independent regulator, the MHRA, has looked at it carefully, as it always does, and has given it the green light.”
The Mail on Sunday reported that the Queen, aged 94, would be among the first to receive the jab, in a move designed to boost public confidence in the immunisation programme. Buckingham Palace has not commented on the story.
Patients aged 80 and above who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those who are being discharged home after a hospital stay, will be among the first to receive the life-saving jab, health officials said over the weekend.
Hospitals will also begin inviting over-80s in for a jab and work with care home providers to book their staff in to vaccination clinics.
Any appointments not used for these groups will be used for healthcare workers who are at highest risk of serious illness from the virus.
A small number of GP-led primary care networks will begin to deliver the jab during the week beginning December 14, with more than 1,000 practices across the country expected to join on a phased basis during December and in the coming months.
More vaccination centres treating large numbers of patients in sporting venues and conference centres will subsequently take part when further supplies of vaccine come on stream, officials have said.