Northern Ireland news

Senior nurse Joanna Sloan is first to receive Covid vaccine in Northern Ireland

 Sister Joanna Sloan (left) becomes the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine jabs, at the Royal Victoria Hospital, in Belfast, on the first day of the largest immunisation programme in the UK's history. Care home workers, NHS staff and people aged 80 and over will begin receiving the jab from Tuesday.
Seanín Graham

A SENIOR nurse has become the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the coronavirus vaccine this morning as the rollout of the immunisation programme begins.

The hospital ward 'sister' Joanna Sloan (28) was the first of almost 1,000 frontline health professionals in line for the Pfizer jab over the next week.

The mother of one from Dundrum in Co Down, said she felt proud to be part of history. She has been a nurse for six years and is due to get married in April. Her wedding had been postponed due to the pandemic. She has a daughter aged five. 

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, said today is a remarkable one.

“We can begin to look to the future with a degree of optimism, with this vaccine and other vaccines and more effective treatments,” he said.

“Hopefully in the future Covid-19 will become a more manageable disease and we will begin the pathway to a more normal life.”

He added that he did not think this day would come so soon, 10 months after Covid-19 was discovered, as opposed to the more normal 10 years taken to develop vaccines.

He recalled the sacrifices and harm caused by the virus as well as the number of lives lost, and warned there will be more challenging months ahead.

He told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme: “It is a game-changer, it is a big day. It is the day we have long been waiting for.”

He said it should be greeted with optimism but tempered with caution.

“This is the start of a long road to recovery but we are on the first step.”

 Sister Joanna Sloan (left) becomes the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine jabs, at the Royal Victoria Hospital, in Belfast, on the first day of the largest immunisation programme in the UK's history. Care home workers, NHS staff and people aged 80 and over will begin receiving the jab from Tuesday.

Meanwhile a 90-year-old woman, originally from Enniskillen, became the first person in the world to receive the vaccine outside trial conditions.

Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, said it was the "best early birthday present".

A mass vaccination centre located on the Royal Victoria Hospital site in Belfast is the venue for the first vaccinations in the north but the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald has also been selected as a second base for the initial rollout along with five leisure centres.

A Department of Health spokeswoman confirmed the number of eligible "vaccinators" who have volunteered to administer the jab now stands at 980, with a further 770 being assessed.

Doctors and nursing staff make up the majority of the specially trained staff.

 A Covid-19 Vaccination Record Card at the Royal Victoria Hospital, in Belfast, on the first day of the largest immunisation programme in the UK's history. Care home workers, NHS staff and people aged 80 and over will begin receiving the jab from Tuesday.

A total of 25,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were delivered to the north last Friday. Two doses are required three to four weeks apart.

It comes in vials which contain five doses that must be mixed on site by a pharmacist or trained health professional.

Concerns about the ultra-low temperatures at which the Pfizer vaccine must be stored - at minus 70 degrees Celsius - and the fact they must used within four days of delivery had sparked concerns around difficulties in its roll out to care homes.

Vulnerable care home residents and staff are prioritised for the jab during this first phase.

However, Health Minister Swann yesterday announced that deployment to care homes "can now proceed in the coming days".

"The solution involves mobile teams operating from the different trust vaccination centres," he said.

"...We are currently considering how these arrangements might be extended to include over 80s in the community."

Last month The Irish News reported that January 4 had been earmarked as the date GPs must begin vaccinating people aged 80 and over as part the mass programme.

Mr Swann said that while it was an "important day" with the commencement of the Pfizer jab, he warned the Covid battle is "far from over".

He also stressed progress on the vaccination programme's rollout will "depend on available supply across the UK."

"The timescale for the approval of other vaccines will be an important factor," he added.

"As clinical prioritisation rolls out, we will all have to await our turn and keep each other safe from the virus. Now is not the time to drop our guard, we still have many challenging months ahead."

Meanwhile, the Public Health Agency has confirmed 482 people from Northern Ireland will take part in a UK wide trial for a new Covid-19 vaccine.

The Novavax Phase 3 trial has achieved its overall recruitment target of 15,203 volunteers just two months after opening.

Queen's University virologist Dr Lindsay Broadbent is among those who have volunteered to take part in the clinical trial, in what will be the first of its kind for the north.

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