“I’m so pleased we are hopefully coming towards the end of this pandemic and I am delighted to be doing my bit by having the vaccine, I feel it is my duty to do so and do whatever I can to help,” said Hari Shukla, the 87-year-old who emerged among the first few in the mass vaccination queue for the Pfizer BioNTech jab against Covid-19.
“Having been in contact with the NHS [National Health Service], I know how hard they all work and the greatest respect for them – they have a heart of gold and I am grateful for everything they have to keep us safe during the pandemic,” he said.
Dr Shukla, an ardent race relations campaigner from Tyne and Wear in the north east of England, makes history as he receives his first of two jabs, taken 21 days apart, at a hospital in Newcastle on December 8 – dubbed V-Day or Vaccine Day.
His 83-year-old wife, Ranjan, will also join him after she opted to get her first dose on request as she fits the NHS criteria.
Shukla was notified by the based on the criteria set by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation as part of a phased rollout plan based on those at the highest risk of death from the . People aged 80 and over, care home workers as well as NHS workers who are at higher risk will be first in line to receive the "life-saving jab".
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Today marks a huge step forward in the UK’s fight against coronavirus, as we begin delivering the vaccine to the first patients across the whole country.
“I am immensely proud of the scientists who developed the vaccine, members of the public who took part in trials, and the NHS who have worked tirelessly to prepare for rollout.”
However, the UK PM also struck a note of caution to warn that mass vaccination will take time and stressed on being “clear-eyed” and continue to follow the lockdown rules over the winter months ahead.
The NHS said it is undertaking the biggest and most highly anticipated immunisation campaign in history at 50 hospital hubs, with more starting vaccinations over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up after the first set of doses arrived from Pfizer's manufacturing site in Belgium.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “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 programme.
“With over-80s and frontline health and care staff receiving their vaccinations from today, the whole country will breathe a collective sigh of relief as our most vulnerable loved ones start to be given protection from the virus. Now’s the time to sit tight and remain patient until you get notified by the NHS that it’s time for your vaccination.
“We can see light at the end of the tunnel but still have a long way to go.”
NHS national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, has warned that the roll out of a vaccine will be a “marathon” not a sprint.