Northern Ireland continues to rank among the world’s highest for the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered per capita. The chart above, from Our World in Data, shows that if Northern Ireland were an independent country, it would rank third in the world for the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered per person, behind the Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and fractionally ahead of Bahrain.
The Northern Ireland Department of Health released this week a programme outlining its plans for vaccinating the adult population of Northern Ireland.
The plan is divided into four phases. The first phase aims to vaccinate care home residents, care home staff, health and social care staff, and people aged 80 or over. Phase 2 aims to vaccinate over 65 years olds and the clinically vulnerable, the third phase aims to vaccinate people aged or 50, and the final phase aims to vaccinate the remaining adult population. It is the intention to deliver second doses 12 weeks after the first dose.
Phase 1 is scheduled to be complete this month. Taking the numbers of people receiving a first vaccine dose from coronavirus.data.gov.uk, as well as various press releases and ministerial statements since the 8th of December, it’s possible to plot the actual numbers of people who received a first dose against the target.
The data is encouraging. Since the rollout began of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine the vaccination rate has increased significantly. On average, around 0.37% of the population (or 7,000 people) are receiving the first vaccine dose every day. If the current rate is maintained, then Phase 1 will indeed be completed by the end of January.
After Phase 1, the rollout plan is slightly vague. Whilst Phase 2 is due to start in February, Phase 3 is merely scheduled to start in “Spring 2021” and Phase 4 in “Summer 2021”. If one assumes that Phase 3 is actually scheduled to start in April, and Phase 4 in June, then it is possible to plot the entire intended programme against the actual number of first doses delivered to date.
If these assumptions are correct, and the current rate of first doses administered over the last few days is maintained, then the target for first doses administered for the adult population will be complete in July, with the final second doses being administered by the end of October.
The early vaccine data is encouraging. The hunt is now on to identify data that would demonstrate that the vaccination programme is having a real world impact. There may be some tentative early signs. For example, the % share of over 80s among COVID-19 hospital admissions in Northern Ireland has fallen over the last couple of weeks as the percentage of the over 80s who have received a vaccine has increased.
In Israel, the country with the highest number of people vaccinated per capita, there has been a decline in the share of weekly new cases among the over 65s.
Over the coming weeks, more and more early indicators that the vaccinations programmes are having an impact should become available.
Obviously, these remain dark times. The number of excess deaths over the previous 5 year average in the six counties of Northern Ireland were the highest since partition, and second only to the 1918 pandemic since the start of the 20th century. Since the start of January, a new record for the number of COVID-19 deaths in a day (21) was set on the 7th of January and then equalled on the 11th of January.
However, the vaccination programme is proceeding very well, and at current rates the prospect of the entire adult population receiving at least a first dose by this summer is a realistic prospect. There are now grounds for real, genuine, optimism that something akin to regular pre-COVID life may resume this year.
We now need to steepen the curve.
xkcd 2409 by Randall Munroe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License