Last updated: Friday, 26 February, 2021, 17:02
Huge increase in NI’s vaccine delivery capacity to start next month
Northern Ireland will significantly enhance its ability to administer Covid-19 vaccines in March, Head of Northern Ireland’s Vaccination Scheme, Patricia Donnelly has said.
Ms. Donnelly told the Stormont Health Committee she anticipated vaccines would be offered “quite quickly” to the next three priority groups i.e. those aged 60 and over; those aged 55 and over and those aged 50 and over.
Once the three aforementioned cohorts have all been offered the vaccine Northern Ireland will then proceed on to Phase Two of the vaccination programme which will begin with people aged between 40 and 49.
Two components that will inevitably hasten the delivery of the vaccination programme in Northern Ireland are greater volumes of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the transformation of the SSE Arena in Belfast into a mass vaccine hub.
Ms. Donnelly also explained that vaccines will be offered at GP surgeries and local pharmacies towards the end of March.
“We want to offer a variety of ways people can access the vaccine because we know what might suit one person might not suit someone else,” said Ms. Donnelly.
Ms. Donnelly confirmed that the success of delivering the AstraZeneca vaccine in Northern Ireland means it will receive “higher volumes” in the second week of March.
“We plan to really vamp up our vaccination programme throughout March and into April.
“This will help us to focus on the next three priority groupings: 60 and older; 55 and older and 50 and older.”
It is anticipated that people aged between 40 and 49 could be offered the Covid-19 at the beginning of April.
Ms. Donnelly also said she hoped the SSE Arena in Belfast would fully operational as one huge vaccination centre at the end of March.
The project is being led by both the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the South East Health and Social Care Trust.
When the SSE Arena goes live the vaccination centres at both the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Ulster Hospital will be both wound down with all vaccination staff moved to the SSE Arena.
The AstraZeneca vaccine will be used at the SSE Arena.
Unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, people who receive the AstraZeneca jab, do not need to observed by medical professionals for 15 minutes afterwards before they can leave.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is much easier to store than the Pfizer/BioNTech.
The Pfizer/BioNTech will still be administered in more controlled settings e.g. a local GP surgery.
People aged between 40 and 49 will be the next priority group offered a Covid-19 vaccine
The next cohort of people to be offered the Covid-19 vaccination will be people aged between 40 and 49, experts advising the government have stated.
There was a suggestion that vaccinations would be prioritised for people in specific occupations deemed to be at a higher risk of catching the virus but the government has decided against this as it would be “more complex”.
More than 18 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far.
The announcement will apply to all four jurisdictions of the United Kingdom.
It now means teachers and police officers will not be prioritised but will be offered the vaccine as per whichever age group they fall into.
The development was confirmed at a press conference on Friday morning hosted by Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
“Of all the different approaches to vaccination, getting vaccines into arms as quickly as possible is the fastest way and the best way to maximise benefit to the population,” said Professor Wei Shen Lim.
“Taking all of these factors into account, we advise that the offer of a vaccination in phase two should still be age-based, starting with the oldest and proceeding in the following order: those aged 40-49, followed by those aged 30-39 and lastly those aged 18-29.
“Following an age-based programme will be simple and simplicity has been one of the cornerstones of the current programme in terms of speed and its success.”