An 87-year-old retired race relations expert from Newcastle has helped make medical history today when he did his “duty” and became one of the first people in the western world to have a Covid vaccine.

“I’m so pleased we are hopefully coming towards the end of this pandemic and I am delighted to be doing my bit by having the vaccine”, said Dr Hari Shukla “I feel it is my duty to do so and do whatever I can to help.”

Dr Shukla and his wife Ranjan, 83, had the first of their two injections of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary today, a week after Britain became the first country in the western world to approve a coronavirus vaccine.

Dr Shukla and his wife Mrs Shukla reading the covid patient information leaflets

“Having been in contact with 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,” he said.

Dr Shukla is one of the 400,000 people who will be injected – in the shoulder, not the arm, as with most injections – as a priority at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary which is one of 50 hospitals around England because they are either over 80, live or work in a care home, or are an NHS worker with poor underlying health or whose work puts them at higher risk.

Dr Shukla was born in Uganda and studied at Exeter University. He later returned to Britain to work in race relations, first in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. He moved to Newcastle in 1974 when he became the director of the Tyne and Wear Racial Equality Council.

He has been awarded an MBE, OBE and CBE for his work. In 2018 he published a book, the Art of Giving, about promoting better relationships between ethnic groups in Newcastle. The former teacher has also been honoured with a “local hero” plaque in the city.

Dame Jackie Daniel, chief executive of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, thanked Dr Shukla and praised all those involved in delivering the new vaccine programme.
“Everyone at Newcastle Hospitals is very proud that we have been able to serve our community throughout the pandemic and we are simply delighted that Dr Shukla, his wife Ranjan, were able to be our first and second patients”.
“Since we cared for the UK’s first patients with coronavirus back in January, we have been hoping for and contributing to research to develop a vaccine. It’s an honour and a privilege to be able to be among the first in the world to provide vaccinations to our frontline staff, key workers and vulnerable people.
“This is an important moment in our fight against COVID-19, but it’s vital to remember that the virus is still circulating widely in our city. Washing your hands, wearing a face covering and making space continues to be crucial to protect each other.”

Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust and South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are part of the first wave of ‘hospital hubs’ and more of the region’s hospitals will start vaccinating over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up.

The COVID-19 vaccination Programme for the North East and North Cumbria is being co-ordinated and supported by Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust working in collaboration with primary care networks, NHS trusts and a wide range of other partners across the health and care systems.

Detailed planning has been going on for several weeks which builds on the expertise and strong track record the NHS already have of delivering large scale vaccination programmes – from the flu jab, HPV vaccine and lifesaving MMR jabs, and to ensure that a COVID-19 vaccination programme does not impact on other vital services.

Dame Jackie continued: “It’s important to say that, while we are moving fast, we are having a measured and steady approach. The national guidance is clear we will be inviting people aged 80 who we can do opportunistically in hospital. We will invite staff who are at the greatest risk if they were to contract covid for example our black and minority ethnic staff, staff who have a long term health condition, or staff who are over 65 years old.

“We know people are really excited about the vaccine and we would ask people to be patient and wait to be contacted – the NHS will contact you when it’s the right time to come forward so please don’t seek a vaccine before then