Northern Ireland news

Most vulnerable could get Covid-19 vaccine by end of year

It was announced yesterday that the innoculation developed by Pfizer and BioNTech offers 90 per cent protection

NORTHERN Ireland will receive a proportion of the UK’s 10 million ‘breakthrough’ Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the year, if it is approved by the regulator.

It was announced yesterday that the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech offers 90 per cent protection.

The UK has placed advance purchase orders for a number of vaccines which were undergoing trials in the hope that one would be successful.

Matt Hancock said he had told the NHS to be ready to begin vaccinating people from the start of December.

The British health secretary told Sky News this morning that no vaccine will be deployed until the government is "confident" of its safety.

Read More: Executive ministers last night locked in discussions over coronavirus restrictions

He added: "I have asked them [the NHS] to be ready from the start of December.

"Of course, there are many hurdles that still need to be gone over and we haven't seen the full safety data, and obviously that is critical.

"We won't deploy a vaccine unless we can be confident in its clinical safety, but we also do need to be ready should a vaccine be licensed and get through all those hurdles and be ready to roll it out."

Mr Hancock said the vaccine will be rolled out "fairly" across the whole of the UK.

He said: "The UK government has bought the vaccine for the whole of the UK and it will be rolled out fairly across the whole of the UK with the same prioritisation no matter where you live in this country.

"The same goes for mass testing, making sure we roll that out across the whole UK."

British prime minister Boris Johnson said the development of a coronavirus vaccine has “cleared one significant hurdle but there are several more to go”.

The order for the vaccine will see 10 million doses received this year and a further 30 million in 2021.

The Department of Health said a percentage of both would come to the north under the Barnett formula, used by the Treasury to automatically adjust public expenditure allocated to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Health Minister Robin Swann said vaccination of those at highest risk could begin by the end of the year but warned people not to “let down their guard”.

“We have been waiting a long time for positive news. While there are very important regulatory and safety assurance hurdles to still be cleared, today represents a step forward,” he said.

“While there are no guarantees, there is a possibility that vaccination of at-risk sections of our community could begin by the end of this year.”

The decision will be made by the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), an independent expert advisory group.

Britain's Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told a Downing Street press conference he was "hopeful" there would be "some vaccine by Christmas".

He said: "Frankly, we're in the middle of the second wave, and I don't see the vaccine making any difference for the wave we are now in.

"I'm hopeful that it may prevent future waves, but this one we have to battle through to the end without a vaccine.

"This is a very important scientific breakthrough. I am certain of that.

"I am hopeful because of all that, but not yet certain that we could begin to see some vaccine by Christmas."

It came as the executive ministers were last night still deadlocked in discussions over whether to relax coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland.

One of the options understood to have been under consideration was allowing cafes and restaurants to reopen but without alcohol being sold.

Ministers were also believed to be considering retaining some restrictions, such as the closure of pubs that do not sell food, for a further fortnight.

But there were doubts over whether they would press ahead with this option, as it is understood discussions acknowledged concerns from the hospitality sector.

Ministers were also assessing whether close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, could be allowed to resume but under strict restrictions.

It also emerged that the coronavirus infection rate in the Derry and Strabane council area has dropped by 70 per cent, six weeks after restrictions were introduced.

It came as a further 10 deaths were recorded across the north yesterday.

Meanwhile, the interim mental health champion warned that “Covid deniers pose one of the greatest threats to mental health by promoting dangerous behaviour that increases the risk of the spread of the virus”.

Siobhan O’Neill said while there was no doubting the huge mental health implications, the issue was “being used by those who want to see a complete end to the restrictions”.

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