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Grandmother in world first as Covid-19 vaccinations get under way

Margaret Keenan, 90, is applauded by staff as she returns to her ward after becoming the first person in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, at the start of the largest ever immunisation programme in the UK's history. Pic by Jacob King

By Jane Kirby and Richard Vernalls, PA

A British grandmother has become the first in the world to receive Pfizer’s Covid-19 jab outside a clinical trial as the NHS began its mass vaccination programme across the UK.

Margaret Keenan, 90, was given the jab in Coventry at 6.31am on Tuesday, marking the start of a phased NHS rollout of the vaccine to older people, health staff and care home workers.

Jabs will be administered at 70 hospital hubs across the UK from Tuesday – dubbed “V-Day” by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Mrs Keenan, who turns 91 next week and has a daughter, a son and four grandchildren, received the vaccine from nurse May Parsons at University Hospital in Coventry.

Known to family and friends as Maggie, Mrs Keenan 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.

“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.”

Mrs Keenan, who is looking forward to spending Christmas with her family, is a former jewellery shop assistant who retired four years ago.

She quipped that she was hoping to holiday in Barbados, adding: “I don’t mind the attention, it doesn’t bother me. I’m just happy to have it done.

“At the moment I don’t know how I feel, just so strange and so wonderful really.

“This is for a good cause and I’m so pleased I had it done.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the vaccination centre at Guy’s Hospital in London on Tuesday morning to meet some of the first people there to receive the vaccine.

Lyn Wheeler, 81, from Bromley, was the first patient to be given the jab at Guy’s and was vaccinated in front of Mr Johnson.

When he asked her how it had been, she said: “It’s all for Britain.”

She urged people to have the jab, adding: “I’m going for it because I feel there’s no other way forward, we can’t keep sitting in our houses.”

Mr Johnson said: “It was very, very exciting just to talk to Lyn about the vaccine that she has just taken.

“She is 81 and 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.”

The Prime Minister urged people to take up the jab if offered it by the NHS, adding: “To all those who are scared (of getting vaccinated) – don’t be.

“You have seen Lyn take it, you have seen people take the vaccine this morning in large numbers.

“There’s nothing to be nervous about.”

Mr Hancock appeared emotional during broadcast interviews on Tuesday morning, saying it was a proud day.

He told Good Morning Britain: “We’ve still got to get the vaccine to millions of people and so we’ve got to keep sticking by the rules.

“But there’s so much work gone into this and I’m really, really … it makes you proud to be British.”

Reacting to the footage of Mrs Keenan getting her jab, Mr Hancock 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.”

Mr Hancock said he hopes “several million” people will have been vaccinated by Christmas, adding that while people must stick to the rules for now: “I have great hopes for summer 2021 and I hope we can lift the restrictions from the spring.”

Meanwhile, NHS England’s medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, said Tuesday’s vaccinations are a “turning point in this pandemic”.

“This is the way out of it, the beginning of the end,” he said.

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, it’s not going to happen next week or next month.

“We still need to socially distance, we need to follow all those restrictions in place.

“But, in 2021, vaccination programmes will mean we can get back to normality.”

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens offered a “heartfelt thank you” to all those involved in the vaccine’s development, from scientists and volunteers in clinical trials to NHS staff.

“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,” he said.

Mrs Keenan has been self-isolating for most of this year and is planning a very small family “bubble” Christmas to keep safe.

Originally from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, she has lived in Coventry for more than 60 years.

She will receive a booster jab in 21 days’ time to ensure she has the best chance of being protected against the virus.

NHS nurse Mrs Parsons said it was a “huge honour” to be the first person in the country to deliver a Covid-19 jab to a patient.

“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,” she added.

The second person vaccinated in Coventry was 81-year-old William Shakespeare, from Warwickshire, who said he was “pleased” to be given the jab.

“I need to say, the staff at this hospital are wonderful,” he added.

The NHS vaccine programme will see patients aged 80 and over who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those who are being discharged home after a hospital stay, among the first to receive the jab.

Care home providers have been asked to book staff in to vaccination clinics, while GPs are also expected to begin vaccinating care home residents shortly.

In Scotland, Andrew Mencnarowski, a clinical lead at NHS Lothian, was among the first to receive the vaccine, while Joanna Sloan, a sister in charge of Covid vaccination for Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, was the first in Northern Ireland.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Tuesday was a “momentous day in our fight against Covid-19”.

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