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Jeffrey Donaldson urges DUP elected representatives not to undermine Stormont's Covid vaccination policy after councillor's death

Councillor Paul Hamill died after contracting Covid-19

SIR Jeffrey Donaldson has told DUP elected representatives not to undermine the Covid vaccination policy.

The DUP leader was speaking following the death earlier this week of party colleague and councillor Paul Hamill.

The 46-year-old father of two died in hospital after contracting Covid-19.

As reported in The Irish News yesterday, the former mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey had recently retweeted many articles and posts from vaccine and lockdown sceptics.

The tweets included posts from associate editor of the Spectator Toby Young, a prominent vaccine and Covid sceptic, and an account highlighting a letter to the head of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which claimed to be "providing further evidence that the Covid vaccines are not safe or effective".

Mr Hamill's death prompted leading virologist Dr Conall McCaughey to urge people to "reassess their attitudes to vaccines and other interventions".

It is understood the popular councillor was recently asked by the DUP to amend his Twitter bio to state: "A retweet is not an endorsement and views are my own."

Asked today about the circumstances surrounding his party colleague's death, Sir Jeffrey said he did not know whether Mr Hamill had received the Covid vaccine.

The DUP leader said his party has a "clear and consistent message" in support of the vaccination roll-out and that he would "continue to encourage" the party's elected representatives to support the public health message.

However, the Lagan Valley MP declined to say he would sanction DUP representatives if spoke out about government advice on Covid-19.

"The evidence is there that while the vaccine doesn't prevent you from getting Covid, it certainly makes a difference in terms of the severity of Covid, and that is our clear and consistent message," he told the Nolan Show.

Read more: 20% difference in vaccine uptake among younger people 'in most and least affluent areas'

Sir Jeffrey said he would discourage people, including public representatives, from "going down the road of undermining the public health policy".

"We criticised Sinn Féin over the Bobby Storey funeral for the massive impact their actions had on the public health message on Covid," he said.

"And I certainly want to work with all of my colleagues to reinforce the public health message on Covid including on vaccinations, and as leader I will try to set the example on that."

The DUP leader said it was people's personal choice whether or not to take the vaccine, but that his party is encouraging people to participate in the jab roll-out.

"I will continue to encourage my representatives at whatever level to support the public health message, to support our chief medical officer and others who are endeavouring in difficult circumstances to do their best to safeguard the entire community," he said.

Sir Jeffrey said every political party has debates around policy.

"But I am very clear that our policy as a party on the vaccination programme is that we support the vaccination programme and that we encourage people to participate in that programme, and I will certainly discourage my colleagues from making statements that would be designed to undermine the public health message," he said.

Read more: Virologist makes appeal after DUP councillor Paul Hamill's death from Covid-19

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