Covid vaccine: UK woman becomes first in world to receive Pfizer jab


A 90-year-old woman has become the first patient in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine after its approval in the UK, where the NHS has launched its biggest vaccine campaign.

Margaret Keenan received the jab at about 6.45am in Coventry, marking the start of a historic mass vaccination programme.

The vaccines will be administered at 50 hospital hubs around the country, with patients aged 80 and over who are either already attending hospital as an outpatient or are being discharged home after a hospital stay, being first in line.

Keenan, known as Maggie, received the injection from the nurse May Parsons at University hospital and said it was a “privilege”.

The former jewellery shop assistant who retired four years ago turns 91 next week.

“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,” said Keenan, who has a daughter, a son and four grandchildren.

She is originally from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, but has lived in Coventry for more than 60 years. “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,” she said.

Parsons said it was a “huge honour” to be the first in the country to deliver the vaccine to a patient.

“I’m just glad that I’m able to play a part in this historic day. The last few months have been tough for all of us working in the NHS, but now it feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Parsons, who is originally from the Philippines and has worked in the NHS for the last 24 years.

Boris Johnson said: “Thank you to our NHS, to all of the scientists who worked so hard to develop this vaccine, to all the volunteers – and to everyone who has been following the rules to protect others.”

The prime minister added: “We will beat this together.”

Matt Hancock said he felt emotional watching the video of Keenan receiving the vaccine and hailed the moment as “a triumph of science and human ingenuity”.

Several million further doses will be arriving in the UK this month, the health secretary told Sky News, although he declined to give an exact figure, saying it depended on the manufacturing and transportation processes. “We have a high degree of confidence in the delivery that will come next week.”

Quick guide

How does the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine work?

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid jab is an mRNA vaccine. Essentially, mRNA is a molecule used by living cells to turn the gene sequences in DNA into the proteins that are the building blocks of all their fundamental structures. A segment of DNA gets copied (“transcribed”) into a piece of mRNA, which in turn gets “read” by the cell’s tools for synthesising proteins.

In the case of an mRNA vaccine, the virus’s mRNA is injected into the muscle, and our own cells then read it and synthesise the viral protein. The immune system reacts to these proteins – which can’t by themselves cause disease – just as if they’d been carried in on the whole virus. This generates a protective response that, studies suggest, lasts for some time.

The two first Covid-19 vaccines to announce phase 3 three trial results were mRNA-based. They were first off the blocks because, as soon as the genetic code of Sars-CoV-2 was known – it was published by the Chinese in January 2020 – companies that had been working on this technology were able to start producing the virus’s mRNA. Making conventional vaccines takes much longer.

Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre, University of Bristol

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He said the government hoped to start providing the vaccine in care homes before Christmas, and that coronavirus restrictions could be lifted in the spring, once enough people who were vulnerable to Covid-19 had been vaccinated.

However, he said people should continue to obey the coronavirus restrictions: “We’ve got to stick together and we’ve got to follow the rules … It is no good everybody relaxing now – we’ve got to hold firm until the vaccination programme has reached enough vulnerable people so that we don’t have people dying from coronavirus in the number that we do today.”

Nicola Sturgeon said she “got a lump in her throat” watching the clip of Keenan. “[It] feels like such a milestone moment after a tough year for everyone,” the Scottish first minister said. “The first vaccines in Scotland will be administered today too.”

The NHS England chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said it was a historic moment and “the first step in the largest vaccination programme this country has ever seen”.

“Less than a year after the first case of this new disease was diagnosed, the NHS has now delivered the first clinically approved Covid-19 vaccination – that is a remarkable achievement,” Stevens said.

Keenan has been self-isolating for most of this year and is planning on having a small family “bubble” Christmas. She was later wheeled back to her ward, with staff cheering and applauding her as she went past.

She is one of 400,000 people who will receive the first batch of 800,000 doses, and will receive a booster jab in 21 days.

The second person to have the injection was 81-year-old William “Bill” Shakespeare, an inpatient at the hospital in Coventry who is local to his namesake’s county of birth, Warwickshire.

Quick guide

When and how will I be able to get a Covid vaccine in the UK?

Now that the UK has authorised the first Covid vaccine, who will get it first?

The government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says its priority is to prevent Covid-related deaths and protect health and social care staff and systems.

Elderly care home residents and their carers are first on the JCVI’s list because their risk of exposure to the virus is higher and because the risk of death closely correlates with older age. They are followed in priority by anyone else over 80 and frontline health and social care workers.

Even so, for pragmatic reasons NHS staff are likely to be the first group to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech jab. This is because the vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, which can be achieved more easily by using hospital facilities

Are there enough doses to reach all the priority groups?

Together, care home residents, their carers and the over-80s make up nearly 6 million people, and frontline NHS staff a further 736,685. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has said he expects 10m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be available this year, so if this is the only vaccine authorised, everyone else would have to wait until further doses become available next year.

Where will I go for the vaccine?

Covid-19 vaccines are expected to be delivered at three types of venue: NHS trust “vaccine hubs” at hospital sites; mass vaccination centres, which are in the process of being set up at places such as football stadiums, conference buildings and racecourses – these are expected to vaccinate up to 5,000 people a day; and at GP surgeries and pharmacies. GPs can also visit care home residents and housebound patients at home without them needing to travel.

How far apart will the two doses be administered, and will I protected after the first?

While there is some evidence to indicate high levels of short-term protection from a single dose of vaccine, a two-dose schedule is what has been approved by the MHRA.

The second dose will need to be delivered at least 21 days after the first, and both will be injected into the deltoid muscle – the thick triangular muscle we use to raise each arm.

For the Pfizer vaccine, its efficacy rate was calculated seven days after the second shot. It is likely that people will have some protection before this, but this is how long it will take for full protection to kick in. We will learn more about the extent of protection and how long it lasts as data from ongoing clinical trials comes in.

Can I pay to get the vaccine privately?

Unlikely. England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, has said he believes Covid-19 vaccines should be delivered according to clinical priority rather than allowing people to jump the queue if they can afford it.

Will I be able to choose which vaccine I have?

Also unlikely, at least in the short to medium term. Assuming more than one vaccine is approved, the priority will be distributing any available doses to the people who need it as quickly as possible.

Linda Geddes

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Care home providers are being asked by the Department of Health and Social Care to begin booking staff in to vaccination clinics, and it is expected healthcare workers who are at highest risk of serious illness from Covid-19 will also be next in line.

Hospital hubs, vaccination centres and other community locations, as well as GP practices and pharmacies, will be used in the vaccine programme, although health chiefs face a complex logistical challenge.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that cold chain ahead of use.

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How will everyone in the world get access to a Covid vaccine? – video

Hancock said patients would receive a standard NHS reminder card for their follow-up appointment and there were no plans for immunity certificates for those who had received the vaccine.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the UK programme was “not about vaccine nationalism”.

Speaking to Sky News, he said: “It’s important to recognise that the vaccine effort has been a global one – there are countries and scientists everywhere trying to make vaccines and it looks like lots are going to be successful.

“The UK has done well to get itself set up and access vaccines and it is brilliant we are in a position to vaccinate someone today. But we need vaccines for the world […] that’s what we need to focus on.”

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