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British grandma, 90, is 1st in the world to receive clinically approved COVID-19 vaccine

"I say go for it, go for it because it's free, and it's the best thing that's ever happened," said Margaret Keenan, who has been dubbed "Patient A" in the U.K.
/ Source: TODAY

A 90-year-old British grandmother who became the first person in the world to receive the BioNTech-Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial had a simple recommendation to others after the landmark event on Tuesday.

"Well, I say go for it, go for it because it's free, and it's the best thing that's ever happened," Margaret Keenan told a group of reporters at the scene.

Keenan received the shot in her left arm on Tuesday morning at University Hospital in her hometown of Coventry, a city north of London. The scene was not only a pivotal moment of hope in turning the tide against an illness that has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide, it also came a few days before the grandmother of four turns 91 next week.

"It's the best early birthday present I could wish for," she 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."

Margaret Keenan, 90, is the first patient in Britain to receive the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the start of the largest ever immunization program in British history.Jacob King / Reuters

Keenan, who has been dubbed "Patient A" in the United Kingdom, was wearing a gray polka-dotted cardigan and a blue shirt with a penguin and the words "Merry Christmas" on it as she received the shot from nurse May Parsons, a 24-year veteran of Britain's National Health Service.

"It was fine, it was fine," the retired jewelry store worker said. "I wasn't nervous at all. I don't know what to say, it's just overwhelming (to be) the first really."

"For me to be able to offer that to Margaret today, the first one, I feel very privileged and thankful and proud," Parsons told NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel on TODAY Tuesday. "So hopefully we'll see light at the end of the tunnel."

The second person to receive it was a man named William Shakespeare, which became a trending topic on Twitter as people had some fun with a patient with the same name as the famous playwright.

Last week, Britain became the first country to grant government approval for the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, which is still awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration to be distributed and applied in the United States.

The vaccine was rolled out at 50 U.K. hospitals on Tuesday that have the proper equipment to keep the doses at the very low temperatures they require. A hospital visited by Engel was administering 100 doses with the goal of ramping it up to 400 per day by next week.

"It's a marathon not a sprint, but there's light at the end of the tunnel, not just for Brits, but for the world I think, too," British Foreign Secretary of State Dominic Raab told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Tuesday.

The elderly, particularly people over 80, have gotten priority to get the vaccine along with nursing home residents and staff.

Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and Prince Philip, 99, have plans to be vaccinated, with Raab telling TODAY that "arrangements will be made" for them to receive it.

Britain has been the hardest-hit country in Europe with more than 61,000 deaths from COVID-19 in a country of 67 million people. The nation has purchased 40 million doses of the vaccine, which is enough to treat 20 million people because it requires two shots. The first batch delivered from Pfizer contains 800,000 doses.

"This feels like the beginning of the end," professor Stephen Powis, the National Health Service’s national medical director, said Sunday ahead of the rollout, according to NBC News.

As for Keenan, she had a cup of tea after her vaccine shot and is expected to be discharged later Tuesday.

"My advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it," she said. "If I can do it, so can you."