A 90-year-old woman, the first to receive the Pfizer covid vaccine

The UK launches a programme of widespread immunization in around seventy hospitals

A 90-year-old woman has become the first UK resident to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine, following the completion of clinical trials. This is how the NHS has launched a widespread vaccination campaign in order to end the coronavirus pandemic, which began on Tuesday 8 December at 6.31am local time, at Coventry University Hospital in central England.

Margaret Keenan, known as Maggie, a Northern Ireland native, has kicked off what the country's media, and the government itself, have already dubbed V-Day, in an explicit reference to the end of World War II. The beginning of the process has taken place after the administration authorized the vaccine for emergency use last week.

About to turn 91, Keenan has called the vaccine "an early present!. "I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against covid-19. It's the best early birthday present, and it means I'll finally be able to spend time with my family and friends on New Year's Eve after being virtually alone most of the year", she said. Keenan will receive her second dose in three weeks. She has taken advantage of the moment and the great media buzz around herm to advise everyone to get vaccinated.

NHS Director Simon Stevens thanked all those involved in the implementation of the campaign for their work. "Less than a year after the first case of this new disease was diagnosed, the NHS is now providing the first clinically approved covid-19 vaccine", he said. Stevens, however, has forgotten that Russia began its vaccination campaign last Saturday, and that China,  has already vaccinated more than a million people since last August.

Some fifty hospitals in England and twenty more in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are starting to vaccinate over-80 year olds' and nursing home staff and assistants this Tuesday. The UK has 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine available, which will enable 20 million people to be vaccinated. By the end of December, and if there are no more problems in the supply chain, the UK could have vaccinated about two million people.

Global effort

However, despite the optimism that may be generated by the news emerging from the UK, the pandemic is far from under control. This is what the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has wanted to remind everyone from the vaccination centre at Guy's Hospital in London, where another woman, Lyn Wheeler, 81 years old, has received the first dose of the immunization. "She's 81 years old and it's very exciting to hear her say that she's doing this for the UK, which is exactly right - she's protecting herself but also helping to protect the whole country", the PM said.

The launch of the vaccination campaign is seen by the Johnson government as a great propaganda opportunity to highlight the benefits of Brexit, partly because the European Union has yet to authorize the Pfizer vaccine, even though it is expected to do so on or before December 29.

However, Patrick Vallance, the scientific director who advises the UK government, admitted this morning that it's not about "nationalising" the vaccine. From the very hospital where Johnson was able to speak to Lyn Wheeler, Vallance said: "It is important to recognize that the effort has been global: there are countries and scientists everywhere trying to make vaccines, and it looks like many will succeed, which is good news. This is not about nationalism. The UK has done well in accessing vaccines and it's great that we're able to vaccinate someone today". 

In line with this, it is important to point out that the vaccine is a joint effort between the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the German biotechnology company BioNTech; additionally, it is produced in Belgium, 40 kilometres away from Brussels, and the ultra-chill freezers needed for its 70 degrees celsius below zero conservation and transport are manufactured near the Italian city of Naples.

The team appointed in spring by the British Prime Minister to lead the fight against covid-19 pre-contracted seven different vaccines, and the first one to be used is that of Pfizer.

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