The Pfizer vaccine must be kept at minus 70C and can be moved four times before it is injected, meaning initially it can only be administered at hospitals. Care, home staff and residents, who are at the top of a list drawn up by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, are being called into hospitals to receive the jab.
Sir Simon, chief executive of NHS England, called the virus “the greatest health challenge in NHS history”. A further 1,438 Covid-19 patients were admitted yesterday, bringing the total in the hospital to 14,556.
“The deployment of this vaccine marks a decisive turning point in the battle with the pandemic,” he said. “NHS vaccination programmes which have helped to overcome tuberculosis, polio and smallpox now turn their focus to coronavirus. NHS staff are proud to be leading the way as the first health service in the world to begin vaccination with this Covid jab.”
Sir Simon said he was confident that vaccinations could begin to be offered in care homes in England “well before Christmas”, adding that there was “every prospect” that by spring all high-risk vulnerable groups will have been vaccinated.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government chief scientific adviser, said today was a “watershed moment” in the coronavirus fight. “It is testament to the efforts of all the scientists, researchers, manufacturers and the thousands of volunteers who took part in clinical trials who made this moment possible.
“I think by the summer we should be in a much better place to get on planes. I don’t think we’re going to get away from this virus ever — so we’re going to have to maintain sensible hygiene and washing hands and so on,” Ms Bingham told BBC Breakfast.
“I would like this vaccine to be as routine as an annual flu jab and that we manage it rather than get bowed down by it.”
Most of the 50 hospital “hubs” that received the first doses have begun to administer them today.
Among those receiving the vaccine will be Hari Shukla, 87, a former teacher, and his wife, Ranjan, 83, who will have the jab at Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne.
“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,” Dr Shukla, a race-relations campaigner, said. “Having been in contact with the NHS staff I know how hard they all work and I am grateful for everything they have done to keep us safe during the pandemic.”
A 90-year-old grandmother who became the first person in the world outside clinical trials to receive the Pfizer-Biontech coronavirus vaccine this morning said it was a privilege and the “best thing that has ever happened”. She added: “If I can do it, you can”, and urged Britons to get the jab.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said he felt quite moved watching Margaret Keenan being vaccinated at University Hospital in Coventry. “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,” he told Sky News.
The head of the NHS welcomed the start of inoculations as a “decisive turning point in the battle with the pandemic”.
Ms Keenan was given the vaccine by May Parsons, a nurse. She said she felt privileged and was looking forward to spending time with her family after being on her own for most of the year
Sir Simon Stevens suggested that coronavirus would go the way of polio and smallpox as the NHS prepared to become the world’s first health service to begin mass Covid-19 vaccinations on what is being called “V-Day”.
Ms Keenan, from Coventry, 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.
“This is for a good cause, I’m so pleased I’ve had it done. I’d say go for it — it’s free and it’s the best thing that has ever happened. If I can do it, so can you.”
As hundreds of other patients prepare to be vaccinated today, the head of the programme said the rollout should enable people to go on holiday next year.
Kate Bingham, the coronavirus vaccine task force chairwoman, said: “My gut feel is that we will all be going on summer holidays.” Vaccinating the most vulnerable will take priority until April and then ministers and experts will consider how to extend the programme more widely, she said.
Boris Johnson said that the programme marked “a huge step forward” in the UK’s fight against coronavirus. “I am immensely proud of the scientists who developed the vaccine, members of the public who took part in the trials, and the NHS who have worked tirelessly to prepare the rollout,” he said.
The prime minister urged people to stick to social distancing rules as the programme “ramps up in the weeks and months ahead”. He said: “Mass vaccination will take time, and we must remain clear-eyed about the challenges that remain.”
On a visit to Guy’s Hospital in London, he spoke to Lyn Wheeler, 81, who was the first to receive the vaccine there.
“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,” Mr Johnson said.
Each hospital has received one 975-dose batch so far and Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine deployment minister, said that the aim was to “take it slowly” to resolve any teething problems. Health chiefs are expecting a gradual start to a programme that aims to vaccinate tens of millions of people within months.
“While we are the first to start our vaccination programme here in the UK, tackling this pandemic is a truly global scientific endeavour. Whilst we start the first steps on the path to getting back to normality in due course, we need to remain vigilant not let our guard down as the vaccine is rolled out, but this is still a tremendous day of celebration.”
Latest figures show that one in four deaths in England and Wales registered at the end of November involved coronavirus. There were 3,040 deaths registered where “novel coronavirus” was mentioned on the death certificate in the week ending November 27, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
This is 24.4 per cent of the total deaths registered during that week, and the highest number of deaths involving Covid-19 since the week ending May 15. It is also up from 2,697 deaths in the week to November 20, a jump of 13 per cent, and an increase from 2,466 the week ending November 13.
Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director for NHS England, said it was a “truly historic day”. Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: “It was really, really emotional, I can’t tell you just how much emotion there was in that vaccination centre. This is a truly historic day, a turning point in this pandemic, another world-first for the NHS, the start of the largest vaccination programme in our history.”
Patients over 80, second on the list alongside NHS staff, will receive the jab if they are visiting hospital this week. Frontline health workers will be vaccinated this week if their hospitals have supplies left over. An initial consignment of 800,000 doses has been received by the NHS, which is hoping for millions more this year.
Mass vaccination centres run by hospitals are due to open in the coming weeks but NHS planning documents indicated that they would operate initially at 60 per cent capacity, each administering 312 jabs a day.
Mr Hancock said that “we will look back on today, V-Day, as a key moment in our fightback against this terrible disease”.
“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,” he said.
People in priority groups will be sent a letter inviting them to have the vaccine, but most are not expected to receive one until next year. Mr Hancock said: “Now’s the time to remain patient until you get notified by the NHS that it’s time for your vaccination. We can see light at the end of the tunnel but still have a long way to go.”