Covid booster vaccine rollout begins across care homes
COVID booster jabs are being rolled out to care home residents and staff across Northern Ireland as the next phase of the vaccination programme gets underway.
Health trust teams are administering the boosters as part of a planned programme, with more than 2,500 doses delivered in the South Eastern trust homes alone.
First doses will also be available for anyone who has not yet been vaccinated following concerns that almost quarter of care home staff have not been inoculated.
Health Minister Robin Swann confirmed the move and said the wider delivery of the third Covid shots will begin next month for all those eligible - equating to around 900,000 people.
The over-50s, those aged 19-49 with underlying heath conditions and healthcare staff will be among those who can avail of the free booster.
The Pfizer vaccine will be used in the majority of cases, which requires a 15 minute observation period post-jab.
GPs and community pharmacies will all be involved in the booster programme.
Vaccination teams will start also visiting schools next month, following the decision to offer a single dose to children aged 12-15.
The push to get first doses to more people will continue as a quarter of the under-30s remain unvaccinated at a time when infection rates and hospitialisations remain high.
Mr Swann welcomed the extension of booster doses saying it will give "added and important protection for some of the most vulnerable people in our society" ahead of winter.
"The significant benefits of vaccination are evident. It protects you and those close to you. While we have now introduced a booster dose for those vaccinated at the start of the programme, it isn’t too late for those who remain unvaccinated to take up the offer of vaccination."
Meanwhile, a fresh appeal has been issued to pregnant women to come forward for vaccination to protect themselves and their baby.
Dr Dale Spence, midwifery officer at the Department of Health, said expectant mothers are continuing to be hospitialised due to Covid.
In August, a 35-year-old mother-of-four, Samantha Willis from Derry, died from coronavirus after giving birth.
Dr Spence said: "Unfortunately we are seeing pregnant women require acute hospital care after acquiring Covid-19. The safest and most effective way of protecting you and your baby is through vaccination.
"Pregnant women have been included in the list of people at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) from Covid-19. While this is on a precautionary basis the importance of vaccination for those in an at risk group cannot be overstated.
"Vaccination against Covid-19 in pregnancy is recommended by both the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and I would also highly recommend that expectant mothers come forward for vaccination. It’s understandable that you may have worries or concerns, if you do, please speak to your midwife.
"For those trying for a baby or for women who are breastfeeding, there is no evidence that the vaccine affects fertility, affects the ability to breastfeed or causes any harm to breastfed children."