The United Kingdom has begun administering the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine outside clinical trials, launching a sprawling public health campaign to vaccinate tens of millions of people in just a matter of months. It marks a significant turning point in the fight against Covid-19, months into a pandemic that has left more than 1.5 million dead.
Margaret “Maggie” Keenan, who turns 91 next week, became the first person in the world to receive an authorized, fully-vetted coronavirus vaccine.
“It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for,” Keenan said after receiving the jab in Coventry, England, dressed in a festive “Merry Christmas” T-shirt. “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 second patient to receive a shot was an 81-year-old man named William Shakespeare (yes, you read that right).
Keenan and Shakespeare were among a handful of people across Britain — those aged over 80, nursing home staff and health care workers — who were administered doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday morning, a week after the UK leapfrogged the rest of Europe and the United States to become the first Western nation to approve it.
The process, which is complicated by the need to store the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in ultracold conditions, will be closely watched from around the globe. The speed with which UK regulators approved the vaccine raised questions in some quarters. But Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said the process had been “incredibly robust.”
Other nations are not far behind the UK. The US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has scheduled a meeting of its vaccine advisory committee on Thursday to discuss Pfizer/BioNTech’s emergency authorization application. It will meet again on December 17 to consider the application for Moderna’s vaccine candidate.
Meanwhile, vaccination centers across Moscow started to distribute Russia’s Sputnik vaccine on Saturday, initially to groups such as teachers, health professionals, and municipal services workers, after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered large-scale vaccination to begin across the country.