Northern Ireland news

First batches of Covid vaccine in Northern Ireland as rollout to begin next Tuesday morning on Belfast hospital site

The Pfizer Covid vaccine offers 95 per cent protection
Seanín Graham

NORTHERN Ireland's first person to be immunised against coronavirus will receive their jab next Tuesday as the rollout of the vaccine begins for priority groups.

Health Minister Robin Swann confirmed yesterday that 25,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had arrived into Belfast, with "vaccinator" teams at the head of the queue.

However, questions remain about the number of doses available for frontline staff amid concerns about supply issues.

High level sources told The Irish News that health officials were briefed in recent days about potential problems in delivering the jab to all NHS staff in the initial phase.

When asked to comment on these concerns, a Department of Health spokesman said the plan remains to include care homes and health/social care workers in the first rollout. However, he added that "with supply staggered, that may include some prioritisation".

He said: "We can confirm that vaccinations will commence on Tuesday 8 December...Vaccination will be a massive long-term logistical challenge. Our rate of progress will depend on available supplies that will be distributed as part of a UK-wide programme."

In England, it emerged yesterday that NHS workers are no longer among the priority groups for the vaccine, with care home staff, hospital inpatients and outpatients aged over 80 now first in line. The u-turn has sparked criticism among medical trade unions.

It is understood the first Covid vaccine jab in Northern Ireland will be given at 8am at a mass vaccination centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital next Tuesday.

PA News reported the recipient will be one of an 800-plus team of vaccinators involved in the subsequent roll-out programme.

The Pfizer stocks, which must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures in dry ice, were transported from the Republic and taken to a central storage facility in the north operated by a private company. The location is not being disclosed.

Two of the facilities used for immunisation are located on hospital grounds - at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald and Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital - and the rest in leisure centres.

The centres will operate 12 hours a day and seven days a week.

The Pfizer jab must be administered in two doses with a three to four week gap inbetween. It is hoped that a second vaccine which is cheaper and easier to store will approved by regulators within weeks.

Welcoming the arrival, Mr Swann: "We have been anticipating this news for many months and it is hugely welcome to receive the first batch of the vaccine today. I have been clear that we still have a long journey ahead of us but we can be optimistic."

The Covid related deaths of another six people were announced by the department yesterday, along with 449 new cases.

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