90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, administered by nurse May Parsons at University Hospital, Coventry, England, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020. The United Kingdom, one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, is beginning its vaccination campaign, a key step toward eventually ending the pandemic. (Jacob King/Pool via AP)

90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, administered by nurse May Parsons at University Hospital, Coventry, England, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020. The United Kingdom, one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, is beginning its vaccination campaign, a key step toward eventually ending the pandemic. (Jacob King/Pool via AP)

‘Route out’ of pandemic: 90-year-old woman receives UK’s 1st COVID-19 vaccine dose

Britain’s program is likely to provide lessons for other countries as they prepare their own plans

A retired British shop clerk received the first shot in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program Tuesday, the start of an unprecedented global immunization effort intended to offer a route out of a pandemic that has killed 1.5 million.

Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, got the shot at 6:31 a.m. on what public health officials have dubbed “V-Day.” She was first in line at University Hospital Coventry, one of several hospitals around the country that are handling the initial phase of the United Kingdom’s program. As luck would have it, the second injection went to a man named William Shakespeare, an 81-year-old who hails from Warwickshire, the county where the bard was born.

“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Keenan, who wore a surgical mask and a blue Merry Christmas T-shirt decorated with a cartoon penguin wearing a Santa hat. “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 U.K. is the first Western country to start a mass vaccination program after British regulators last week authorized the use of a COVID-19 shot developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. U.S. and European Union regulators may approve the vaccine in the coming days or weeks, fueling a global immunization effort.

Britain’s program is likely to provide lessons for other countries as they prepare for the unprecedented task of vaccinating billions of people. U.K. health officials have been working for months to adapt a system geared toward vaccinating groups of people like school children and pregnant women into one that can rapidly reach much of the nation’s population.

Amid the fanfare that greeted Britain’s first shot, authorities warned that the vaccination campaign would take many months, meaning painful restrictions that have disrupted daily life and punished the economy are likely to continue until spring.

“We still have a long road ahead of us, but this marks the route out,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC.

Other vaccines are also being reviewed by regulators around the world, including a collaboration between Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca and one developed by U.S. biotechnology company Moderna.

Britain has received 800,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to vaccinate 400,000 people. The first shots will go to people over 80 who are either hospitalized or already have outpatient appointments scheduled, along with nursing home workers and vaccination staff. Others will have to wait their turn.

Health officials have asked the public to be patient because only those who are most at risk from the virus will be vaccinated in the early stages. Medical staff will contact people to arrange appointments, and most will have to wait until next year before there is enough vaccine to expand the program.

Buckingham Palace refused to comment on reports that Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and her 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, would be vaccinated — and make that fact known — as a public example of the shot’s safety.

Britain is the first country to deliver a broadly tested and independently reviewed vaccine to the general public. On Saturday, Russia began vaccinating thousands of doctors, teachers and others at dozens of centres in Moscow with its Sputnik V vaccine. China has also begun giving its own domestically made shots to its citizens and selling them abroad. But those products are being viewed differently because neither countries’ vaccines have finished the late-stage trials scientists consider essential for proving that a vaccine is safe and effective.

The vaccine can’t arrive soon enough for the U.K., where more than 61,000 people have died in the pandemic — more than any other country in Europe, according to data tallied by Johns Hopkins University. The U.K. has recorded more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of the virus.

The vaccine, however, remains experimental. While it seems to prevent people from getting sick, it is still unclear how long that protection lasts.

The 800,000 doses Britain has received so far are only a fraction of what is needed. The government is targeting more than 25 million people, or about 40% of the population, in the first phase of its vaccination program, which gives first priority to those who are highest risk from the disease.

Stephen Powis, medical director for the National Health Service in England, said the first shot was an emotional moment.

“This really feels like the beginning of the end,? he said. “It’s been really dreadful year, 2020 — all those things that we are so used to, meeting friends and family, going to the cinema, have been disrupted. We can get those back. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next month. But in the months to come.?

The vaccination program will be expanded as the supply increases, with the vaccine offered roughly on the basis of age groups, starting with the oldest people. Britain plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines to everyone over the age of 50, as well as younger adults with health conditions that put them at greater risk from the virus.

READ MORE: Canada to get 249,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine in December, Trudeau says

In England, the vaccine will be delivered at 50 hospital hubs in the first wave of the program, with more hospitals expected to offer it as the rollout ramps up. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are making their own plans under the U.K.’s system of devolved administration.

Logistical issues are slowing the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine because it has to be stored at minus-70 degrees Celsius (minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit). Authorities also are focusing on large-scale distribution points because each package of vaccine contains 975 doses and they don’t want any to be wasted.

The U.K. has agreed to buy more than 350 million doses of vaccine from seven different producers. Governments around the world are making agreements with multiple developers to ensure they lock in delivery of the products that are ultimately approved for widespread use.

All of those logistical challenges culminated in nurse May Parsons inserting a syringe into Keenan’s left shoulder and depressing the plunger to deliver the vaccine. Parsons, originally from the Philippines, has worked for the NHS for the past 24 years.

“I’m just glad to be able to play a part on this historic day,” she said. “The last few months have been tough for all of us working in the NHS, but now it feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

___

Danica Kirka, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusvaccinesvideo

Just Posted

.
Princeton’s Spotlight wins two provincial awards for excellence

Publisher takes first place for investigative reporting

Princeton GSAR responds 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In 2020 the crew was called out 34 times, and members spent 721 hours on calls, and 683 hours training. Photo Princeton GSAR Facebook
Teen missing in Manning Park found after 24 hours

Young man spends night on mountain and survives with just a few scrapes

The COVID-19 cases reported over the week of May 30 to June 5. (BC CDC)
South Okanagan sees second straight week of 17 new COVID-19 cases

Summerland, Keremeos and Princeton all recorded no new cases

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has hired a new FireSmart coordinator. (Black Press file photo)
FireSmart coordinator named for Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen

Kerry Riess will provide assistance to mitigate potential wildfire hazards

The damages to the downtown park in Keremeos. One of the trees that was uprooted was a memorial tree with a plaque. (Submitted)
Memorial tree in Keremeos park uprooted by vandals

All of the trees in the small park were torn up and the statue was shifted

Dr. Albert de Villiers, chief medical health officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a summary of this week’s biggest stories from the Okanagan-Shuswap

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Naramata community in shock as condolences pour in for homicide victim Kathy Richardson

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

The RCMP are asking for assistance regarding the death of Kathleen Richardson of Naramata, pictured here. Her death is believed to be related to two homicides in Naramata in May. (RCMP)
Police identify South Okanagan homicide victim as 57-year-old Naramata woman

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday

Fair-goers take a ride at the 120th annual Armstrong Interior Provincial Exhibition and Stampede Aug. 28-Sept. 1, 2019. (Katherine Peters - Morning Star)
Armstrong’s IPE not eligible for COVID-19 grant designed for major attractions

Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo criticized the rigidity of the provincial program’s criteria

Two e-scooters parked on the sidewalk along Water Street in downtown Kelowna on Monday, May 3. Scooters parked on walkways are causing accessibility issues for some people with disabilities. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Kelowna General Hospital clinicians observe increase in e-scooter injuries

A report is set to go to city council next week on how the e-scooter pilot has gone thus far

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Most Read