COVID-19 vaccine: 90-year-old woman becomes first to receive Pfizer vaccine in the UK

The UK has begun the rollout of its mass vaccination program.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read
Margaret Keenan, 90, is the first person in the UK to receive the vaccine.

Margaret Keenan, 90, is the first person in the UK to receive the vaccine.

Jacob King - Pool / Getty Images

The UK on Tuesday became the first country to start administering the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, kicking off its mass vaccination program, which is expected to see 4 million people begin the process by the end of the month. The first person to receive the vaccine outside of a clinical trial was Margaret Keenan, 90, who was given the first of the two injections she will need at University Hospital, Coventry ahead of her birthday next week.

"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 Keenan in a statement.

She will receive her second dose of the vaccine in three weeks, with full immunity expected a week after that. The second person to receive the vaccine was an 81-year-old man named William Shakespeare from Warwickshire (which also happens to be the birthplace of the famous bard with whom he shares a name). Nurse May Parsons, who administered the vaccine to both Keenan and Shakespeare, said it was a "great honor" to play a part in "this historic day."

UK resident William Shakespeare receives the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine

William Shakespeare, 81, receives his first injection.

Jacob King/PA Wire/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Last week, the UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use. Pfizer said the vaccine had been 95% effective in its rigorous clinical trials.

The vaccine is one of several in development as the world's scientists race to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Developed by German biotech firm BioNTech and US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, it's also the first vaccine to use cutting-edge mRNA genetic material to fight the illness. The results of clinical trials for two other vaccines, one by Moderna and one by Oxford University and Astra Zeneca have also been announced.

The FDA in the US is currently examining vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, although the supply chain is already being readied in preparation for rolling out the Pfizer vaccine. The first mass air shipment of vaccines was delivered to Chicago at the end of November.

Russia and China have already approved vaccines, but without large-scale testing.

Around 70 hospital hubs across the UK are being used to administer the vaccines. Among the first to receive the injections are patients aged 80 and above who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those who are being discharged home after a hospital stay. 

Next on the priority list are residents of care homes and their carers, followed by people over 80 and frontline health and care staff. The hope is to avoid overwhelming the country's National Health Service in the middle of winter, its busiest time of year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was hospitalized with the virus in April, thanked via tweet the NHS and the scientists responsible for the virus. He also went to see vaccinations taking place at Guys Hospital in London on Tuesday morning.