On Tuesday 8 December 2020 at 6.45am, history was made at Coventry University Hospital as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was used for the first time anywhere in the world as part of a mass immunisation programme. 90-year-old Margaret Keenan was given the first of two immunisation injections against the coronavirus as part of the NHS programme.
The empty vial and syringe from Margaret’s historic immunisation will now join the Science Museum Group Collection, a highlight of our significant COVID-19 Collecting project.
It has been acquired for the national collection alongside prototype medical technology, NHS home swabs tests and test analysers, ‘Stay home’ messaging from the daily Government briefings and other public signage, ventilators and other breathing assistance apparatus, creative pieces and art inspired by the pandemic, homemade masks and many other items to provide a permanent record of medical, scientific, cultural and personal responses to the pandemic.
As the mass immunisation programme unfolds, countless vaccine vials and syringes will be safely disposed of.
By preserving this tiny but significant object, we are capturing the historic occasion of the first COVID-19 vaccination, to be shared with future generations.
Early in 2021, the vial will go on display in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries at the Science Museum – the largest galleries devoted to the history of medicine anywhere in the word.
Visitors will be able to study the vial alongside a timeline of key objects from the history of vaccination and explore displays about infectious diseases which caused previous epidemics, such as Ebola, polio and bubonic plague.
We worked closely with Dr Emily Lawson, chief commercial officer and vaccine lead for the NHS, and Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of NHS England, to acquire the vial.
‘As a scientist who eagerly visited the science museum as a young girl I am delighted that these NHS and world first items will be hosted here, rightly documenting the historic moment for generations to come’ said Dr Lawson.
‘This is the biggest global health challenge in generations and Maggie aged 90 from Coventry getting the very first jab, and so kickstarting the biggest vaccination programme in NHS history, marks a significant turning point in our fight against coronavirus.’
Within the vast and varied Science Museum Group Collection (and in Sir Henry Wellcome’s Museum Collection which we also care for on behalf of the Wellcome Trust), there are remarkable items which tell stories of past pandemics.
However, these items are rare as collecting pandemic-related items is difficult. These items rarely survive, either due to their ephemeral nature (such as rapidly changing advice given on posters), because they are destroyed (due to contact with pathogens or bodily fluids) or perhaps because the people living through these traumatic events were eager to forget.
And that is why it is so important to collect this little vial.
Although it is small and unassuming, the vial represents the boundless creativity, ingenuity and sheer hard work of scientists, medical practitioners, technicians and volunteers across the world who have researched, developed, tested and deployed a vaccine in record time.
The news was first reported by the Observer newspaper.