'Concern' about drop in vaccine rates among under-30s as north lags behind
HEALTH chiefs have expressed concern at Northern Ireland's stalled vaccine rates amid warnings of 8,000 daily Covid cases and increasing hospital admissions within weeks.
Almost 82 per cent of adults have received a first dose of the jab compared to 87.8 per cent in England, 89.8 per cent in Scotland and 90.5 per cent in Wales by July 18.
Uptake rates are lowest among the 18-29 age bracket, with just 56 per cent jabbed, despite the rollout of pop-up clinics and walk-in appointments over the past month.
The north's Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Medical Officer both issued pleas today to those who had delayed getting the vaccine to come forward to protect themselves and prevent the health service from being overwhelmed
Professor Ian Young said he was "very concerned" about the drop.
"There's still around 18 percent of adults who have not come forward for the first dose of their vaccine," the north's chief scientist told the BBC.
"And that means 18 percent of people who are just as susceptible to the most severe effects of Covid as they were earlier in the epidemic and at just the same risk of severe illness, long-term illness in the form of long Covid, hospital admission and death."
CMO Sir Michael McBride said that while the overall rollout had been a "remarkable achievement", with 82 per cent receiving their first dose since December, the increase in cases was worrying.
He also pointed to modelling by health experts which suggests that by mid-August there could be up to 3,000 to 4,000 cases a day and a worst case scenario of up to daily 8,000 cases - translating to 400 to 600 in hospital with Covid and more than 1,000 at its peak.
"Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic, unfortunately over the past number of weeks we have seen the number of people presenting to get the first dose of the vaccine slow very significantly particularly in the younger age groups," he told the BBC.
He added: "There is 6 percent more people in England, eight percent in Scotland and 10 percent more in Wales."
He said if Northern Ireland could increase the number of people getting their first doses by five per cent it could could reduce the number of new cases by half.
The CMO also discouraged young people from believing false vaccine rumours circulating on social media.
"These are safe effective vaccines, so say the FDA in the USA, the medicines regulators here in the United Kingdom, the European medicines regulator," he said.
"These are safe and effective vaccine, and I would just appeal to all young people to take up the opportunity to get the jab.
"They won't be as accessible in the future, our first doses of the vaccines will end on July 31 at mass vaccination centres and we will begin to stand those down in August so it's going to become more difficult to access the vaccine although we will still be rolling it out to people who change their mind belatedly."
Meanwhile Professor Young Prof Young said the Stormont Executive, which is due to meet tomorrow to approve further easing of restrictions, will need to find a "balance" between the health data on the pandemic and the economic and societal harm caused by controls.
On face masks, the chief scientific adviser said he would continue to support their use, particularly in indoor settings.
"There's a very strong case for continuing to recommend face coverings in indoor settings where people can't socially distance and settings which are not well ventilated," Prof Young added.