London: The UK kicked off its biggest-ever vaccine campaign in history on Tuesday, as 90-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech jab against COVID-19.
At 6:31 AM GMT early riser Maggie was given the life-saving jab by nurse May Parsons at her local hospital in Coventry to mark what the National Health Service (NHS) has dubbed a "landmark moment" on V-Day or Vaccine Day in the fight against the deadly virus.
"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 Maggie, who turns 91 next week.
The former jewellery shop assistant who retired four years ago has a daughter, a son and four grandchildren and is looking forward to being able to go out again once she receives the top-up booster dose 21 days later.
"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.
"It's a huge honour to be the first person in the country to deliver a COVID-19 jab to a patient, I'm just glad that I'm able to play a part in this historic day," said nurse Parsons.
Maggie is among the first set of people contacted in advance by the NHS for the jab based on a pre-determined health risk criteria and will include 87-year-old British Indian grandfather of nine Hari Shukla, who will get his first dose at a hospital in Newcastle.
"I'm so pleased we are hopefully coming towards the end of this pandemic and I am delighted to be doing my bit by having the vaccine, I feel it is my duty to do so and do whatever I can to help," said Dr Shukla, a race relations campaigner.
They have been picked based on the criteria set by the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation phased rollout based on those at the highest risk of death from the deadly virus.
People aged 80 and over as well as care home workers will be first to receive the jab this week, along with NHS workers who are at higher risk among the first to receive the "life-saving jab".
"Today marks a huge step forward in the UK's fight against coronavirus, as we begin delivering the vaccine to the first patients across the whole country. I am immensely proud of the scientists who developed the vaccine, members of the public who took part in trials, and the NHS who have worked tirelessly to prepare for rollout,? said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
However, the UK prime minister struck a note of caution to say that mass vaccination will take time, and therefore there was a need to remain "clear-eyed" about the challenges that remain.
"As the programme ramps up in the weeks and months ahead, it is as important as ever to keep to the COVID Winter plan following the rules in your area and remember the basics of hands, face and space," he said.
Since the Pfizer vaccine got the green light from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last week, the NHS said.
Its workers have been working around the clock to manage the huge scale logistical challenge of deploying the vaccine. Over the weekend, hospitals have begun inviting over 80s in for a jab and work with care home providers to book their staff into vaccination clinics.
"We will look back on today, V-day, as a key moment in our fight back against this terrible disease, and I am proud our health services across the United Kingdom are about to embark on our largest ever vaccination programme," said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
"With over-80s and frontline health and care staff receiving their vaccinations from today, the whole country will breathe a collective sigh of relief as our most vulnerable loved ones start to be given protection from the virus.
"Now's the time to sit tight and remain patient until you get notified by the NHS that it's time for your vaccination. Until then, protect yourselves and the NHS by continuing to follow local restrictions. We can see light at the end of the tunnel but still have a long way to go,'' he said.
The Pfizer/BionTech formula is an mRNA vaccine that uses a tiny fragment of genetic code from the pandemic virus to teach the body how to fight COVID-19 and build immunity.