Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a substance put into the body, usually by injection, to provide protection against a disease

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The noun vaccine comes from the Latin ‘vaccinus’, which itself came from the Latin word for cow, ‘vacca’. It has been used in English since the late 18th century.


History was made early this morning in University Hospital in Coventry when 90-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first patient in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine following its approval for UK use last week. The word vaccine owes its bovine origin to the fact that the early vaccines against smallpox were derived from the cowpox virus. The approval and initial rollout in the UK of the first vaccine against Covid-19 is a welcome indication that there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. The first vaccine to gain approval, produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, has gone from initial concept to use in just ten months. This remarkable speed is due in part to the fact that the new vaccine uses a novel technique based on mRNA or messenger RNA.  Many have yet to be persuaded of the new vaccine‘s safety and efficacy, however: vaccine hesitancy was recognized by the WHO as a global health threat even before Covid struck. Governments around the world may decide to fund campaigns to combat anti-vaxxing sentiment in order to ensure that the new vaccines are taken by sufficient numbers of people to bring the disease under control. They could not have a better advocate than Mrs Keenan, who described receiving the jab from nurse May Parsons as ‘a privilege’.


I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19, it’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year.
(Margaret “Maggie” Keenan, 8 December 2020)

The U.K. on Wednesday became the first country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use, marking another step in the global battle against the pandemic.

Related Words

vaccinate, vaccination, immunize, immunization, jab

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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