Covid booster rollout stepped up with GP-led clinics
THE rollout of Covid booster jabs is to be stepped up across Northern Ireland following the delivery of 120,000 doses to GP practices - which must be used within three weeks.
Plans to escalate the next phase of the programme will begin today at venues including Kingspan Stadium in Belfast as new data reveals the north is significantly behind Britain in delivering the third dose to the double-jabbed.
To date, a total of 43,536 doses have been given (equating to 3.5 per cent) to frontline healthcare staff and care home residents - who were deemed priority - following the launch of the programme's first phase last month.
Wales has the highest proportion of boosters delivered, at 14.4 per cent. England is 11.9 per cent while Scotland is 11.1 per cent.
The Irish News has also leaned Clonard Hall in the west of the city has been booked by two GP practices to run a joint booster vaccination clinic over consecutive Saturdays, beginning on October 30.
However, with around 900,000 people in the north eligible - over-fifties and those aged 19-49 with underlying heath conditions will be offered the free booster - health sources say the programme urgently needs escalated as infection rates remain stubbornly high and severe winter pressures loom.
The extremely clinically vulnerable, including those suffering from severe asthma and people with a weakened immune system, are next in line for the jab.
One of the issues impacting on its rollout is the requirement for a six-month gap between the second and third Covid doses - with plans reportedly under consideration to cut it to five months.
Extra staff will be in based in vaccine clinics as a 15 minute observation period post-jab is required. Pfizer doses are to be used in the majority of cases.
Dr Michael McKenna runs a practice in west Belfast and is preparing for his booster clinic in Clonard.
"A lot of GP surgeries in the Lower Falls are using Clonard, it's booked for every Saturday in November," he said.
"Space is the reason why so many doctors are using it, due to the 15 minute wait. It allows you to have more people socially distanced.
"You can have 30 people in an indoor setting on that date and it will be easy to put them two metres apart. That will allow you to have the rapidity you need within the vaccination system.
"GPs just do it so much faster. Between ourselves and another surgery we aim to vaccinate around 1,100 people in the hall over two days.
"We have to work out the logistics of actually transporting the vaccine, which is quite fragile. It may have to be delivered to the hall on the day. But if the Belfast trust can manage to transport it to nursing homes, we can manage to transport it to Clonard."
Results from a clinical trial published earlier this week showed that having a booster dose is more than 95 per cent effective at preventing disease.
There were more than 10,000 participants in the trial.
Dr McKenna added: "The data looks good."