Margaret Keenan, 90, became the first person to be vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine early on Tuesday, but the second person to get it also hit the headlines and tickled some funny bones – the reason: his name is William Shakespeare.
Both received the vaccine in the University Hospital in Coventry in the Midlands, not far from Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of the better-known Bard of Avon. The modern-day Shakespeare is 81, which makes him eligible to be in the first group to receive the vaccine.
His name sparked much ado and creativity on the social media, evidence that there is lots in a name. The image of Shakespeare receiving the vaccine was widely shared, with remarks such as: ‘The Taming of Flu’ and ‘The Two Gentlemen of Corona’.
One commentator wondered if Keenan were to be called Patient 1A, would Shakespeare be “Patient 2B or not 2B?” Another said he was “glad he (Shakespeare) wasn’t Bard from having it”, and some hoped that “In a world when people hardly ever remember who came second, the second person to get the Covid jab might stick in the memory”.
Health secretary Matt Hancock also had a laugh on live television that the second person to receive the vaccine was named William Shakespeare, insisting the vaccine roll-out “makes you so proud to be British”.
Among those lined up to first receive the vaccine are Hari Shukla, a retired teacher and race relations campaigner in north England, and his wife, Ranjan, 83, at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
They are among the over-80-year-olds prioritised to receive the first of the 800,000 doses in 50 hospitals across the UK. The vaccine is administered in two doses, 21 days apart.
Awarded the royal honours of MBE, OBE and CBE for his work in race relations, the Uganda-born Shukla said: “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. I feel very comfortable and happy to be the first one”.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m excited about it. We were waiting for this vaccine for a very long time. Having been in contact with the NHS staff, I know how hard they all work and I am grateful for everything they have done to keep us safe during the pandemic”.
The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine and is expected to receive 4 million more by the end of this month. The UK regulator is also evaluating the clinical data of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccine candidates.
Shukla, widely seen as a local hero, added: “We hope that everybody will participate in it and get back to next to normal. I have been following the news and our scientists have done a wonderful job. I have no doubt in my mind they are the best in the world.”
Several individuals such as Shukla and Ranjan receiving the vaccine is being publicised widely by the UK’s health authorities to overcome anti-vaccine anxieties among some people, as well as content on social media.
Queen Elizabeth, 94, and Prince Philip, 99, are also expected to be among the first to receive the vaccine.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Today marks a huge step forward in the UK’s fight against coronavirus. As the programme ramps up in the weeks and months ahead, it is as important as ever to keep to the Covid winter plan – following the rules in your area and remember the basics of hands, face and space.”
Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, called the start of the vaccine programme a “turning point”, and said: “The deployment of this vaccine marks a decisive turning point in the battle with the pandemic. NHS vaccination programmes which have successfully helped overcome tuberculosis, polio and smallpox now turn their focus to coronavirus.”
As of Monday evening, 61,434 people have died in UK hospitals and care-homes, making it the worst affected country in Europe, including over 1,000 people of Indian origin. The number of cases has climbed to 17,37,960.