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Covid-19 vaccination preparations well underway, health minister says

GPs and community pharmacists will have a key role to play as the vaccination programme progresses next year and large numbers of staff have already been recruited
Michael McHugh, Press Association

Preparations are well under way to begin the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccination programme from next month, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.

The plans include fixed mass centres for receiving the jab and the deployment of mobile units to care homes.

GPs and community pharmacists will also have a key role to play as the programme progresses next year and large numbers of staff have already been recruited.

Mr Swann said: "The planned mass vaccination programme will be a major logistical exercise lasting many months, taking us to the middle of next year at least.

"While I am cautious by nature, I am optimistic that vaccination will increasingly do the heavy lifting for us in 2021 in the battle against coronavirus.

"I am also very heartened by the scale of the preparatory work already undertaken for a vaccination programme in Northern Ireland."

Regulatory approval has not yet been issued, so any planning will be provisional.

Northern Ireland will be guided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on which groups will receive the vaccine first.

It is expected that care home residents and health and social care workers will be the first priority groups, and further groups in early 2021 will be based on age and clinical vulnerability.

A public information campaign will encourage take-up and touch on issues concerning safety and the robustness of the regulatory process.

Mr Swann added: "The progress towards a vaccine is highly impressive and extremely welcome. However, I have to reiterate that regulatory hurdles have still to be cleared so we should take nothing for granted.

"It is essential that people do not relax their guard against Covid-19 now, just because hopes are rising on the vaccine front.

"We have to keep doing all the right things to protect ourselves against the virus and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future."

Thursday's Executive meeting was given an update on the preparations by Patricia Donnelly, head of the vaccine programme.

They will be deployed as they become available.

It is expected that each person will require two doses.

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