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World first as UK launches COVID-19 vaccination programme

The UK has embarked on a large-scale vaccination programme to protect the population against COVID-19, with Margaret Keenan becoming the first in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 jab outside of trials, in what many are describing as a landmark moment in the pandemic.

“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,” said NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.

“A heartfelt thank you goes to everyone who has made this a reality – the scientists and doctors who worked tirelessly, and the volunteers who selflessly took part in the trials. They have achieved in months what normally takes years.”

“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,” added Keenan, who turns 91 next week.

The phased vaccination programme will see patients aged 80 and above who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those who are being discharged home after a hospital stay, among the first people protected from contracting novel coronavirus with BNT162b2.

Care home providers are also being asked by the Department of Health and Social Care to begin booking staff in to vaccination clinics, while GPs will begin vaccinating care home residents.

The vaccine is typically delivered by a simple injection in the shoulder but there is a complex logistical challenge in that it needs to be stored at -70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that cold chain ahead of use.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency granted emergency use authorisation for the vaccine early December, on the back of a rolling submission including data from a Phase III clinical study, which showed an efficacy rate of 95% in people without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection and also in those with and without prior infection.

In the trial, BNT162b2 was generally well tolerated with no serious safety concerns reported by the Data Monitoring Committee to date.