Vaccine raises hope for end to pandemic, but public warned to stick to rules

Hopes for an end to the coronavirus pandemic have been raised with the rollout of the first vaccine to the most vulnerable, but people are being warned to stick to the rules and “not blow it” in the months ahead.

It is thought hundreds of people were vaccinated at 70 hospital hubs across the UK on Tuesday – dubbed “V-Day” by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Among the health staff, care home workers and elderly who got the Pfizer jab was 90-year-old Margaret Keenan who said she felt “so privileged” to be the first person in the world vaccinated against Covid-19 outside clinical trials.

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Amid the jubilance, Mr Hancock cautioned that the guidance still needs to be followed, as the vaccine is rolled out over the coming months.

He told MPs in the Commons that people must “temper our joy and enthusiasm” at the beginning of the rollout “with the need to keep each other safe”.

He added: “Let’s not blow it since we can see the answer is on the horizon.”

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said the UK is unlikely to get back to a semblance of normality before spring, and that we might still need face masks next winter.

He is due to appear alongside England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries at a joint session of the Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee on Wednesday.

They will be joined by Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and questioned on various topics related to the handling of the pandemic, including vaccination.

The MHRA approved the Pfizer vaccine and is currently considering the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna jabs.

Oxford researchers have said more detail is required on how effective their vaccine – of which the UK has secured 100 million doses – is in older adults, the group at most risk of severe Covid-19.

But, writing in The Lancet medical journal, the researchers said there were no admissions to hospital or severe disease in people receiving the vaccine, and chief investigator of the trial Professor Andrew Pollard said it “has a good safety record and efficacy”.

Mr Hancock said he hopes vaccinations in care homes in England can “start before Christmas”.

In Northern Ireland, residents and staff at a care home were vaccinated on Tuesday.

A person aged 100 was among 25 vulnerable occupants and 35 staff to receive the Covid-19 jab at an East Belfast home which specialises in supporting those with dementia.

Campaigners have warned that scores of poorer countries are at risk of being left behind when it comes to accessing Covid-19 vaccines, with rich nations “hoarding” stock.

Data shows rich nations representing just 14% of the world’s population have bought up 53% of all the most promising vaccines so far, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

The group – which includes organisations such as Oxfam and Amnesty International – is calling for governments to take “urgent action” alongside the pharmaceutical industry to share technology and intellectual property to ensure enough vaccine doses are produced for a global rollout.

Meanwhile, Wales has announced it is cutting its isolation and quarantine period from 14 days to 10, with the change coming into effect from Thursday.

In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland people from the same household as someone who has tested positive must isolate for 14 days, and travellers coming in from non-exempt countries must also quarantine for two weeks.