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'The Beginning of the End': UK Kicks Off COVID Vaccination Effort

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A retired British shop clerk received the first shot in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program on Tuesday, the start of an unprecedented global immunization effort.

Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, got the shot at 6:31 a.m. on what public health officials have dubbed “V-Day.” She was first in line at University Hospital Coventry, one of several hospitals around the country that are handling the initial phase of the United Kingdom’s program.

Funnily enough, the second injection went to a man named William Shakespeare, an 81-year-old from Warwickshire, the county where the bard was born.

“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19,” Keenan said.

“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.”

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The U.K. is the first Western country to start a mass vaccination program after British regulators last week authorized the use of a COVID-19 shot developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

U.S. and European Union regulators may approve the vaccine in the coming days or weeks.

Amid the fanfare that greeted Britain’s first shot, authorities warned that the vaccination campaign would take many months.

“We still have a long road ahead of us, but this marks the route out,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC.

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Other vaccines are also being reviewed by regulators around the world, including a collaboration between Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca and one developed by U.S. biotechnology company Moderna.

Britain has received 800,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to vaccinate 400,000 people. The first shots will go to people over 80 who are either hospitalized or already have outpatient appointments scheduled, along with nursing home workers and vaccination staff.

Health officials have asked the public to be patient because only those who are most at risk from the virus will be vaccinated in the early stages. Medical staff will contact people to arrange appointments, and most will have to wait until next year.

The government is targeting more than 25 million people, or about 40 percent of the population, in the first phase of its vaccination program.

Buckingham Palace refused to comment on reports that Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and her 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, would be vaccinated as a public example of the shot’s safety.

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Britain is the first country to deliver a broadly tested and independently reviewed vaccine to the general public.

On Saturday, Russia began vaccinating thousands of doctors, teachers and others at dozens of centers in Moscow with its Sputnik V vaccine. China has also begun giving its own domestically made shots to its citizens and selling them abroad.

But neither of the countries’ vaccines have finished the late-stage trials considered essential for proving that a vaccine is safe and effective.

The U.K. has seen more than 61,000 COVID-19 deaths — more than any other country in Europe, according to data tallied by Johns Hopkins University. The U.K. has recorded more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of the virus.

Stephen Powis, medical director for the National Health Service in England, said the first shot was an emotional moment.

“This really feels like the beginning of the end,″ he said.

“It’s been really dreadful year, 2020 — all those things that we are so used to, meeting friends and family, going to the cinema, have been disrupted. We can get those back. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next month. But in the months to come.″

The vaccination program will be expanded as the supply increases, with the shot offered roughly on the basis of age, starting with the oldest people.

Britain plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines to everyone over the age of 50, as well as younger adults with health conditions that put them at greater risk from the virus.

In England, the vaccine will be delivered at 50 hospitals in the first stage of the program, with more hospitals expected to offer it as the initiative ramps up. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are making their own plans.

The U.K. has agreed to buy more than 350 million doses of the vaccine from seven different producers.


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