In Depth

Coronavirus: does ‘V-Day’ mark the end of the pandemic?

UK woman becomes first person to receive Pfizer jab as NHS launches biggest-ever vaccination drive

A 90-year-old woman has become the the first person in the world to be vaccinated against Covid-19 outside of a clinical trial, as the largest mass vaccination drive in NHS history kicks off on what Health Secretary Matt Hancock has dubbed “V-Day”.

Grandmother-of-four Margaret Keenan received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at 6.31am today at her local hospital in Coventry, after the UK government last week became the first to approve the jab for public use. Keenan, who turns 91 next week, said it was “the best early birthday present I could wish for” .

 “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,” she added.

But does the vaccine launch herald imminent victory in the UK’s war against the coronavirus - or do more challenges lie ahead?

Vaccine rollout schedule

The UK government has so far received 800,000 of a total order for 40 million doses - enough for 20 million people - of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus 70C.

A total of four million doses are on track to be delivered by the end of December, NHS Providers has told Sky News

The vaccine is administered in two doses spaced 21 days apart, and will be offered first to people aged over 80, care home staff and some front-line NHS workers, at hospital hubs across the country.  

Britain has also ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine candidate and seven million doses of the jab developed by Moderna - both of which are awaiting regulatory approval in the UK and other countries worldwide.

End in sight?

NHS England boss Simon Stevens says the deployment of the Pfizer vaccine “marks a decisive turning point in the battle with the pandemic”.

The vaccinations push will continue “at least until next spring”, he added, and unvaccinated people will need to be “very careful” in the meantime.

The rollout has also been welcomed by Keir Starmer, who this morning tweeted: “Today is a momentous day in our fight against Covid-19. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

But like Stevens, the Labour leader sounded a note of caution, adding that “it is crucial we all continue to stay safe by following public health advice”.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “We will look back on today, V-Day, as a key moment in our fight back against this terrible disease, and I am proud our health services across the United Kingdom are about to embark on our largest ever vaccination programme.”

However, there is a “long march ahead of us”, he said, adding: “This virus is deadly. We’ve got to stick by the rules.”

Danger remains

The government has today published a report highlighting the work and achievements of its Vaccines Taskforce (VTF), as Boris Johnson offers his thanks to NHS workers, the scientists who helped develop the vaccine, and the volunteers in the clinical trials. 

“The approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in the UK marks a momentous step in our fight against Covid-19,” the prime minister said. “But we still have some way to go and everyone needs to keep following the rules to keep the virus under control.”

The coronavirus has claimed more than 61,000 lives in the UK to date, and more than 1.5 million worldwide. 

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