A doctor who received one of the first Covid-19 vaccines in Ireland has hailed the jab as the country's "pathway to freedom".
However, Prof John Gallagher warned that despite the fact thousands will receive the vaccine over the coming weeks, it does not mean Ireland can relax critical social distancing measures, given the scale of the third wave of virus cases currently being experienced.
Prof Gallagher, a Cork-based occupational health consultant, warned that Ireland is in the grip of a major third wave of the Covid-19 virus with case numbers soaring.
He received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Cork University Hospital (CUH) alongside other frontline healthcare workers.
Around 500 frontline staff will receive the jab at CUH over the next 72 hours, with 15 in the first vaccination phase yesterday, which followed intensive training for the teams administering the jab.
Those who received the vaccine included doctors, nurses, porters, receptionists and strategic hospital support workers.
Prof Gallagher said the vaccine roll-out represented a turning point in the battle against Covid-19, but warned the war was not yet over.
"It's a great day for us. We were doing about 10 to 15 people today to help the vaccinators get up and running," he said.
"The next few days will then be very busy. I had my arm out for the first dose and was looking forward to it.
"It's a very big day for us, but we're in a very strange period.
"I remember vividly being in this department last March when we had the first surge. It was like a tidal wave of cases in March and quite overwhelming.
"We got through that, and the October one came along quite suddenly.
"We learned some lessons and we muscled through. You could see this third wave happening with all the interest in the Christmas period, travel and the rest.
"Boy, are we now stuck in that third wave.
"Numbers are pushing up, there's a lot of anxiety around the place but, for the first time and in contrast to the other waves, now we can point people in the right direction.
"We have a way out. As far as I'm concerned, this is the 'pathway to freedom' as regards to getting away from Covid-19.
"But we must not forget this is a really big wave of cases that's upon us at the moment.
"We're not going to see the peak for another couple of weeks.
"Even with the vaccination programme, we cannot afford to drop our guard with wearing masks, social distancing and reducing contacts."