The roll-out of the first coronavirus vaccines to patients in England by the NHS is being hailed as a herculean effort by doctors and nurses.

The first batch of vaccinations arrived from Belgium on Thursday.

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer jab, enough to vaccinate 20 million people as people need to receive two doses.

There are 800,000 doses in the first batch, meaning 400,000 people will be vaccinated initially.

Since the Pfizer vaccine got the green light from regulators last week, health service staff have been working around the clock to manage the huge scale logistical challenge of deploying the vaccine.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said: “Coronavirus is the greatest health challenge in NHS history, taking loved ones from us and disrupting every part of our lives.

“Hospitals have now cared for more than 190,000 seriously ill COVID-19 patients and have seen beds fill up again in recent weeks.

“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.

“NHS staff are proud to be leading the way as the first health service in the world to begin vaccination with this COVID jab.”

People aged 80 and over as well as care home workers will be first to receive the jab along with NHS workers who are at higher risk.

Hospital hubs where the vaccines are being stored have begun inviting over 80s in for a jab and work with care home providers to book their staff in to vaccination clinics.

Speaking as the first patients receive the vaccine the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Today marks a huge step forward in the UK’s fight against coronavirus, as we begin delivering the vaccine to the first patients across the whole country.

Boris Johnson delivering the news of the vaccines purchased by the government

“I am immensely proud of the scientists who developed the vaccine, members of the public who took part in trials, and the NHS who have worked tirelessly to prepare for rollout.

“But mass vaccination will take time, and we must remain clear-eyed about the challenges that remain.

“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.”

NHS national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis has warned though that the roll out of a vaccine will be a marathon not a sprint.

GPs and other primary care staff have also been put on standby to start delivering the jab. A number of GP-led primary care networks will begin doing so next week with more practices in more parts of the country joining in throughout December

Vaccination centres treating large numbers of patients in sporting venues and conference centres are also expected to be opened as more vaccines become available after being passed safe to use.

Any appointments not used for these most at-risk groups will be used for healthcare workers who are at highest risk of serious illness from covid. All those vaccinated will need a booster jab 21 days later.

Dr Hari Shukla, from Tyne and Wear became one of the first people in the world to get the Covid vaccine at hospital in Newcastle on Tuesday.

Hari said: “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, I feel it is my duty to do so and do whatever I can to help.”

“Having been in contact with the NHS, I know how hard they all work and the greatest respect for them – they have a heart of gold and I am grateful for everything they have to keep us safe during the pandemic.”

Any appointments not used for these most at-risk groups will be used for healthcare workers who are at highest risk of serious illness from covid. All those vaccinated will need a booster jab 21 days later.

Dr Nikita Kanani NHS England Medical Director for Primary Care

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England Medical Director for Primary Care, spoke about the importance of those invited to get vaccination get the jab:

“Evidence shows COVID-19 disproportionately affects those from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. That’s why it is so important that people take up the offer of a vaccine when they receive one.

“This will be a marathon, not a sprint, but we’re working hard to ensure as many people as possible get vaccinated so they can protect themselves and their families, starting this week with older people and care home staff.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock who was seen to be quite emotional earlier as vaccines were administered said: “We will look back on today, V-day, as a key moment in our fight back against this terrible disease, and I am proud our health services across the United Kingdom are about to embark on our largest ever vaccination programme.

“With over-80s and frontline health and care staff receiving their vaccinations from today, the whole country will breathe a collective sigh of relief as our most vulnerable loved ones start to be given protection from the virus. Now’s the time to sit tight and remain patient until you get notified by the NHS that it’s time for your vaccination. Until then, protect yourselves and the NHS by continuing to follow local restrictions. We can see light at the end of the tunnel but still have a long way to go.

“As a UK government, we have ensured the four nations will have enough doses of the vaccine to protect those across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too. I want to congratulate each health service for their contribution to this momentous occasion.”