Covid-19 vaccine 'will not be hit by Brexit supply problems'
The distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in Northern Ireland will not be impacted by potential post-Brexit disruption to Irish Sea supply routes, a senior health official has insisted.
Chief pharmaceutical officer Cathy Harrison told the health committee it was planned for batches of vaccine to be brought directly into Northern Ireland from suppliers, not via Britain.
"We don't foresee any issues in relation to EU exit in terms of handling the vaccine and getting the vaccines into Northern Ireland," she told MLAs.
"The vaccines will be coming directly into Northern Ireland."
She also said she did not envisage the vaccine being rolled out on an all-Ireland basis, though she did anticipate some cross-border co-ordination.
She was responding to a question from Sinn Féin committee chairman Colm Gildernew, who had insisted an all-island approach made sense.
"We don't work on an all-island basis at this moment in time (in term of vaccine roll-outs)," she told MLAs.
"I'm sure the committee are aware we work in terms of Northern Ireland and southern Ireland, but align in terms of principles and in terms of objectives on public health.
"I can't see that being any different this time around."
Ms Harrison was giving evidence to committee members on the potential impact of Brexit on the supply of medicines and medical devices.
She said a deal with the UK and EU to allow a further year to allow pharmaceutical companies to adjust to regulatory changes brought about as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol coming into effect in January had reduced many of the risks around supply chains.
Ms Harrison said Brexit preparations meant Northern Ireland had more medicines stockpiled than at any time in its history.
But she said uncertainty about the operation of the protocol at ports was still a source of concern.
"We've never held more medical supplies at any point in history probably than we have now in the UK and in Northern Ireland," she said.
"We do have additional stock here as well in our system. So, now I just want that flow to continue on unimpeded, and that's my current focus on supplies."