UK starts mass COVID vaccination

LONDON (AFP) – Britain yesterday began the biggest vaccination programme in the country’s history, with a 90-year-old grandmother becoming the first person to receive the COVID vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech.

The historic inoculation was given to Margaret Keenan at a hospital in Coventry, central England.

“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19,” said Keenan, who turns 91 next week.

Wearing a face-mask and sporting a snowman T-shirt under a grey cardigan she told reporters, “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 first in line to get the vaccine on what has been dubbed “V-Day” are the over-80s, care home workers and at-risk frontline health and social care staff.

They will then require a second jab in 21 days’ time.

Last week Britain became the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the pandemic, which has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide.

Britain is one of the worst-affected countries, with more than 61,000 deaths in the outbreak from 1.6 million cases.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent days in intensive care with COVID-19 earlier this year, called it a “huge step forward in the United Kingdom’s (UK) fight against coronavirus”.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has offered to have the jab on live television to allay public fears, said the rollout was a “key moment” that would protect the most vulnerable.

The head of the state-run National Health Service in England, Simon Stevens, said it was a “decisive turning point” against the “greatest health challenge” since the National Health Service (NHS) was founded in 1948.

A nurse administers COVID-19 vaccine to Margaret Keenan at University Hospital in Coventry. PHOTO: AFP