Britain’s National Health Service began delivering shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday, opening a public health campaign with little precedent in modern medicine and making Britons the first people in the world to receive an authorized, fully tested vaccine.
Early Tuesday morning, Margaret Keenan, 90, a former jewelry shop assistant, became the first person anywhere in the world to receive a clinically authorized, fully tested coronavirus vaccine. She was given the shot at a hospital in Coventry, in central England.
Fittingly, she is an early riser, the National Health Service said in a news release.
“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19,” Ms. Keenan said. “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.”
Health workers began administering the shots six days after British regulators leapt ahead of the United States to become the first Western country to authorize a coronavirus vaccine, part of a global sprint to end a pandemic that has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide.
In its first batch, Britain has received 800,000 doses of the vaccine, the government said. Packed in 975-dose trays at ultracold temperatures, the vaccine has been transported in recent days from a manufacturing plant in Belgium to government warehouses in Britain, and then to hospitals.
Fifty hospitals will be administering the shots until the government can refine a plan for delivering them at nursing homes and doctor’s offices, too. The vaccine must be transported at South Pole-like temperatures, though Pfizer has said that it can be stored for five days in a normal refrigerator before being used. First to receive the vaccine will be doctors and nurses, certain people over 80 and nursing home workers.
Some doctors and nurses have received invitations in recent days to sign up for appointments, with the first shots intended for those at the highest risk of severe illness. The government has indicated that people over 80 who already have visits with doctors scheduled for this week, or who are being discharged from certain hospitals, will also be among the first to receive shots.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said on Monday that “all parts of the U.K. now have doses.”
Nursing home residents, who were supposed to be the government’s top priority, will be vaccinated in the coming weeks once health officials start distributing doses beyond hospitals.
Amid concerns about Britain’s looming split from the European Union snarling the transport of the vaccine from Belgium to British warehouses, the government said this week that it was prepared to ask the Army to fly doses over the border.
“This is such an important product, it’s probably perhaps the most important product,” James Cleverly, a Foreign Office minister, said on Monday. “So we will look to ensure that those supplies are available in the U.K. in whatever circumstance.”
Alluding to Britain’s nascent campaign to persuade people hesitant about the vaccine to get a shot, Ms. Keenan, a grandmother of four, said, “My advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it — if I can have it at 90 then you can have it, too!”
Administering her shot was May Parsons, a nurse who is originally from the Philippines and has worked for the National Health Service for 24 years.
“The last few months have been tough for all of us working in the N.H.S.,” she said, “but now it feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
On Tuesday, a handful of people across Britain — mostly those aged over 80, health care workers and those working in nursing homes — will receive the newly approved Pfizer vaccine. It will be the first day that the inoculations are being administered in any Western nation.
Hilary Nelson, 45, an I.C.U. nurse in Scotland’s Forth Valley Royal Hospital who is also a nurse’s union representative, said it was important to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“I want to get the vaccine to protect my colleagues, my family, but most of all the patients that we look after,” she said.
She hopes to serve as an example to others in the country, particularly those who may be doubtful of the vaccine’s safety, because she knows the heavy toll the disease has taken.
“I’ve sat with dying patients and had to call their loved ones on the phone,” she said.
“You know I had questions I went away and I read about it,” she…