History is being made in Britain as the first patients are given a coronavirus vaccine outside of a trial environment.
It’s being dubbed “V Day” – for the vaccine and hopefully victory over COVID-19.
Hundreds of people across Britain will get the vaccine, but the first – so-called “Patient A” – has already been given the first of two jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, in the English Midlands.
It was a momentous moment for people in the UK after almost a year of rolling lockdowns and restrictions and almost 60,000 deaths.
Worldwide, COVID-19 has claimed more than 1.5 million lives.
This vaccine hopefully means the end is in sight.
“Patient A” has been named as 90-year-old Margaret “Maggie” Keenan, who received the jab in Coventry.
Ms Keenan, from Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, said she felt “so privileged” to be the first person to receive the vaccine, a week before she turns 91.
Matron May Parsons administered Ms Keenan’s vaccine at 6.30am Greenwich Mean Time.
“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,” Ms Keenan told the BBC.
“I can’t thank May and the NHS staff enough who have looked after me tremendously, and my advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it – if I can have it at 90 then you can have it too.”
Like everyone else, Ms Keenan – who turns 91 next week – will need another injection in 21 days to make the vaccine effective.
Nearly 50 hospitals in the UK have begun the rollout, and the most vulnerable – people over 80 and in aged care homes – are up first.
That’s expected to include both the Queen and Prince Philip, followed by doctors and nurses in hospital emergency departments and ICUs.
The UK government is warning it will be the end of February before everyone considered vulnerable is inoculated.
After that, the wider mass vaccination program will begin, the biggest in British history.
The rest of the world will be watching, with so much riding on these vaccines working.
Vaccinations will begin rolling out in England, Wales and Scotland on Tuesday, while Northern Ireland says it will start this week, without specifying an actual day.
The process is complicated by the need to store the vaccine under strict conditions and give each recipient two doses three weeks apart.
UK health officials expect to have up to four million doses of the vaccine, which offers up to 95 per cent protection against COVID-19, available by the end of December.
The speed with which UK regulators approved the vaccine – ahead of their counterparts in Europe and the United States – raised some questions in some quarters.
But Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said the process had been “incredibly robust.”
“Yes, it’s been shorter than other vaccines approval processes, but that’s because everything has been thrown at this, all in one go,” she said.
The head of the UK medicines regulator also put out assurances on Sunday, saying the Pfizer/BioNTech jab is “as safe as any general vaccine” and that those receiving it will be monitored by health officials.
“You might have a mild symptom, but it will probably disappear in a day or two, and nothing at all of a serious nature,” said June Raine, head of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
According to the MHRA, more than one in 10 recipients may suffer side effects including pain at the injection site, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever.
The vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, a temperature only possible in special freezers.
Once taken out of the freezer, the MHRA authorisation requires the doses to be kept refrigerated and used within five days.
Batches can only be moved and repacked into smaller numbers of doses a limited number of times and under strict conditions.
Once a vial is diluted for injection, it cannot be transported and must be used within six hours, or discarded.
How far away is the rest of the world?
Other nations are not that far behind the UK when it comes to taking a decision on approving the vaccine.
The US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has scheduled a meeting of its vaccine advisory committee on December 10 to discuss Pfizer/BioNTech’s emergency authorisation application.
It will meet again on December 17 to consider the application for Moderna’s vaccine candidate.
Meanwhile, vaccination centres across Moscow started to distribute Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine on Saturday, initially to groups such as teachers, health professionals and municipal service workers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered large-scale vaccination with Sputnik V to begin across the country from this week.
What about Australia?
Last week Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia was on track to roll out its first vaccinations to the general public in March 2021.
The first vaccines will be distributed to health workers and aged care residents from January.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reassured Australians that the vaccine will only be distributed when governing bodies deem it to be suitable for widespread use.
“Our first priority is that it be safe,” Morrison said.
“Australians know there aren’t easy fixes to the challenges we face as a country, and they expect governments to wrestle with the pressures that are facing our country and seek to strike the right balance.”
– with CNN