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Fermanagh grandmother who was the first to receive Pfizer vaccine advises others to 'do what I did'

Margaret Keenan said: “If I can have it at 90 then you can have it too… Go for it.”

Margaret Keenan, 90, walks with nurse May Parsons after receiving the vaccine.
Margaret Keenan, 90, walks with nurse May Parsons after receiving the vaccine.
Image: PA

Updated Dec 8th 2020, 7:50 PM

A 90-YEAR-OLD GRANDMOTHER who became the first person to get a Covid-19 vaccine as part of the UK’s mass vaccination plan has said she hopes others will “do what I did”.

Margaret Keenan, who is marking her 91st birthday on Tuesday week, said: “Hopefully it’ll help other people come along and do what I did, and try and do the best to get rid of this terrible thing.”

Grandmother Margaret Keenan (90), who is originally from Co Fermanagh, received the vaccine at about 6.30am in Coventry, England today, marking the start of a historic mass vaccination programme in the UK.

The Pfizer-BioNTech jabs were administered at dozens of hospital hubs across the UK today.

Keenan, known to family and friends as Maggie, received the jab from Filipino nurse May Parsons at her local hospital in Coventry. Originally from Enniskillen, she has lived in Coventry for more than 60 years.

After receiving the vaccine, she said:

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.
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.

Asked how she felt about being first in line for the jab, she said: “It hasn’t sunk in yet,” adding she initially thought staff were having her on.

The grandmother-of-four said she “thought it was a joke to start with” and said: “I couldn’t believe it.

“I’m happy it’s happened and now I’ve done it.

“At the moment I don’t know how I feel, just so strange and so wonderful really,” she added.

“This is for a good cause and I’m so pleased I had it done.”

Keenan said she “never” thought she would be the first person having the vaccine as part of the national rollout.

“This is a terrible disease so we do want rid of it, so anything that helps is a bonus, isn’t it, really?” she said.

She said to those who might be having second thoughts about getting vaccinated: “I say go for it, because it’s free and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened. Go for it.”

coronavirus-tue-dec-8-2020 Margaret Keenan (90) receiving the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine in England this morning. Source: PA

Keenan was among up to 100 people set to have the jab in the UK, which arrived in an insulated container just minutes before the inoculation, and had to be carefully handled according to strict clinical controls.

Speaking from the vaccination clinic at University Hospital Coventry Keenan said: “To tell you the truth I got this opportunity of doing it, and I was in hospital.

“It was a great opportunity,” added Keenan, who only retired from her job in a jewellers four years ago.

I know that one or two people on my ward are going to wait and have it done by the doctor, but because it was available for me today (I did it).

“I don’t mind the (media) attention, it doesn’t bother me.

“It was fine – I wasn’t nervous at all,” said the mother-of-two. “I’m just happy to have it done.”

The first Covid-19 vaccine on the island of Ireland was administered this morning to a nurse at 8am at a mass vaccination centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. First Minister Arlene Foster said today is “a day of hope”. 

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens praised all those involved in delivering the new vaccine programme.

“Less than a year after the first case of this new disease was diagnosed, the NHS has now delivered the first clinically approved Covid-19 vaccination – that is a remarkable achievement,” Stevens said.

“I also want to thank Margaret, our first patient to receive the vaccine on the NHS,” HE said. “Today is just the first step in the largest vaccination programme this country has ever seen.”

Like many around the country, Keenan has been self-isolating for most of this year and is planning on having a very small family ‘bubble’ Christmas to keep safe.

“I’m spending Christmas with four of my family members and then we’ll see what happens in the new year, but I’m looking forward to Christmas – yes I am.”

She will receive a booster jab in 21 days to ensure she has the best chance of being protected against the virus.

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coronavirus-tue-dec-8-2020 Margaret Keenan walks with nurse May Parsons (left) after becoming the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine. Source: PA

‘Huge honour’

NHS nurse May Parsons said it was a “huge honour” to be the first in the country to deliver the vaccine to a patient.

Speaking at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, she said: “It’s a huge honour to be the first person in the country to deliver a Covid-19 jab to a patient, I’m just glad that I’m able to play a part in this historic day.

“The last few months have been tough for all of us working in the NHS, but now it feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Parsons, originally from the Philippines, has worked in the NHS for the last 24 years and been at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire since 2003.

The second person to have the injection was 81-year-old William “Bill” Shakespeare, an in-patient on the hospital’s frailty wards from Coventry who, appropriately, is local to his namesake’s county of birth, Warwickshire.

Shakespeare said he was “pleased” to be given the jab: “I need to say, the staff at this hospital are wonderful.”

2.56999048 ‘Bill’ Shakespeare receives the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine.

The UK vaccine rollout plan

The phased vaccination programme will see patients aged 80 and above who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those who are being discharged home after a hospital stay, among the first to receive the life-saving jab.

Care home providers are also being asked by the Department of Health and Social Care to begin booking staff in to vaccination clinics. GPs are also expected to be able to begin vaccinating care home residents.

Any appointments not used for these groups will be used for healthcare workers who are at highest risk of serious illness from Covid-19.

Health chiefs have set out how they will deliver the mammoth task ahead, using hospital hubs, vaccination centres and other community locations as well as GP practices and pharmacies.

The life-saving vaccine is typically delivered by a simple injection in the shoulder but there is a complex logistical challenge to deliver from the manufacturers to patients.

It needs to be stored at -70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that cold chain ahead of use.

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