In central England, Margaret Keenan, 90, a former jewelry shop assistant, was given the shot at a hospital in Coventry, as part of Britain’s mass inoculations against Covid-19.
Britain’s National Health Service delivered its first shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday, opening a mass vaccination campaign with little precedent in modern medicine and making Britons the first people worldwide to receive a clinically authorized, fully tested vaccine.
At 6:31 a.m. Tuesday, Margaret Keenan, 90, a former jewelry shop assistant, rolled up the sleeve of her “Merry Christmas” T-shirt to receive the first shot. Her image quickly became an emblem of the remarkable race to produce a vaccine and the global effort to end a pandemic that has killed 1.5 million people worldwide.
“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19,” said Ms. Keenan, who lives in Coventry, in central England. “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.”
British regulators leaped ahead of their American counterparts last week to authorize a coronavirus vaccine, upsetting the White House and setting off a spirited debate about whether Britain had moved too hastily or if the United States was wasting valuable time as the virus was killing about 2,200 Americans a day over the last week, as of Monday.
President Trump planned on Tuesday to issue an executive order proclaiming that other nations will not get U.S. supplies of its vaccine until Americans have been inoculated, a directive that appeared to have no real teeth but nevertheless was indicative of the heated race to secure shipments of doses.
For the people receiving vaccinations in Britain, among them doctors and nurses who have fortified the country’s National Health Service this year, the shots were an early glimpse at post-pandemic life. Besides Ms. Keenan, none attracted as much attention as William Shakespeare, who was second in line for a Coventry shot and who, the National Health Service confirmed, really is named William Shakespeare.
“Today is a great day for medical science, and the future,” Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said on Tuesday. (An earlier version of this item mistakenly said he was the chief medical officer for all of Britain.)
The first 800,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Britain were 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. Pfizer has said the vaccine must be transported at South Pole-like temperatures before it can be stored for five days in a normal refrigerator. First, to receive the vaccine will be doctors and nurses, certain people aged 80 and over, 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 aged 80 and over 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.
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.
Hundreds of people are still dying in Britain each day from the virus. The country has made allowances for travel over the Christmas period that scientists fear will seed another uptick in infections.
“It is amazing to see the vaccine, but we can’t afford to relax now,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said on Tuesday morning as he visited a London hospital. Trying to calm a recipient’s nerves about needles, he suggested, “I always try to think of something else — recite some poetry.”
Ms. Keenan, the first vaccine recipient, showed no such nerves. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said on Twitter that watching Ms. Keenan receive the shot gave her “a bit of a lump in the throat.”
“Feels like such a milestone moment after a tough year for everyone,” Ms. Sturgeon added.
Administering Ms. Keenan’s 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.”