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Exclusive Irish ‘Auntie Peggy’ makes history as the first person in world to get the Covid-19 vaccine

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Margaret Keenan is applauded by staff at University Hospital Coventry as she returns to her ward after becoming the first person in Britain to get the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. Photo: Jacob King

Margaret Keenan is applauded by staff at University Hospital Coventry as she returns to her ward after becoming the first person in Britain to get the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. Photo: Jacob King

Margaret Keenan is applauded by staff at University Hospital Coventry as she returns to her ward after becoming the first person in Britain to get the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. Photo: Jacob King

The niece of the first recipient of the Covid-19 vaccine has spoken of her immense pride at “Auntie Peggy” becoming world-famous.

Margaret Keenan, who is originally from Enniskillen, was given the injection early yesterday morning the first of many doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab that will be dispensed to nearly a million people across the UK over the next few weeks.

Coventry-based Mrs Keenan, who will turn 91 on December 15, has lived in England for more than 60 years, but has many relatives in Ireland.

One of them, Geraldine McHugh from Tempo in Co Fermanagh, spokeof her shock at seeing her elderly aunt leading the news on every media outlet yesterday morning.

“I knew Auntie Peggy was getting the vaccine, but didn’t realise she’d be the first in the world to receive it outside clinical trials,” said Ms McHugh (61), who visited her aunt in England last year, prior to the onset of the pandemic.

“She went into hospital last week with breathing problems and was put on oxygen.

“Her daughter later told me that Peggy was doing well and had been chosen as one of the people to get the new vaccine.

“I thought she was going to be the first in Coventry’s University Hospital, so I got a total surprise when I saw her on the news as the first in the world.”

The mother of three added: “The family are delighted for her. She’s a fabulous person who likes to keep busy.”

Mrs Keenan who has a daughter, Sue (58), son Philip (60) and two grandchildren was well aware of the global significance of what happened yesterday at 6.31am.

The nonagenarian, who was wearing a grey cardigan with a blue T-shirt bearing a penguin and the words ‘Merry Christmas’ underneath, received her historic jab from nurse May Parsons in her adopted city.

Better known to her English family and friends as ‘Maggie’ but ‘Peggy’ on this side of the Irish Sea the former jewellery shop assistant, who was given a guard of honour by medical staff after the procedure, retired just four years ago aged 86.

“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19,” said Mrs Keenan.

“It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with family and friends in the new year.

“I have been on my own for most of this year. I can’t thank May and the NHS staff enough for looking after me.

“My advice to anyone offered this vaccine is to take it. If I can have it at 90, then you can have it too.”

She quipped : “I don’t mind the attention, it doesn’t bother me. I’m just happy to have it done.

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

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

Mrs Keenan, who will receive a booster jab in three weeks, was the first patient at dozens of hospital hubs across the UK administering the Pfizer vaccine on what theUK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, dubbed “V-Day”.

Not long after Mrs Keenan made history, Dundrum nursing sister Joanna Sloan became the first person to receive the jab in Northern Ireland.

The 28-year-old said she hoped her five-year-old daughter, Cailie, would be impressed by what she had done, adding she felt emotional at being part of such a momentous occasion.

Ms Sloan, who manages the Belfast Trust’s vaccination centre, had to put her wedding on hold this year because of the pandemic.

She is now due to get married in April next year.

“This feels like the last hurdle towards keeping people safe myself and everyone around me,” she said.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for so long and it feels great. I feel fantastic privileged.”

Ms Sloan, who has been a nurse for six years, said she would explain the significance of the day to her daughter.

“I want her to be proud. I want all my family and friends to be proud,” she added.

The Co Down nurse, who is one of 600 volunteers who will get the two required doses of the vaccine during the first phase of the local rollout, said it was an emotional moment.

“The health service has struggled throughout the fight against Covid-19, so it feels like a momentous day,” she
added.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the vaccination centre at Guy’s Hospital in London yesterday morning to meet some of the first
people there to receive the vaccine.

He urged people to take up the jab if offered it by the NHS, adding: “To all those who are scared (of getting vaccinated), don’t be.

“There’s nothing to be nervous about.”

Mr Hancock appeared emotional during broadcast interviews yesterday morning, saying it was a proud day.

“It has been such a tough year for so many people and finally we have our way through it – our light at the end of the tunnel .

“And just watching Margaret there it seems so simple having a jab in your arm, but that will protect Margaret and it will protect the people around her.”

“And if we manage to do that...If we manage to do that for everybody who is vulnerable to this disease, then we can move on."

Online Editors


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