Patricia Donnelly announced an “important juncture” in the mass vaccination programme yesterday, as the beginning of the largest phase of the roll-out gets under way.
At a Stormont press conference last night Ms Donnelly insisted that, despite global demand for vaccines, supplies to Northern Ireland have so far been “steady and in line with expected schedules” – allowing the move to ‘phase two’ of the roll-out here to begin.
“We’re throwing all our weight behind this to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” she said.
Asked by the News Letter when this part of the programme would be complete, she said: “It begins in February but actually it’s going to go on into March.”
Earlier this week, the Stormont health department said everyone aged over 65 – nearly a quarter of a million people – would be vaccinated by the end of February.
Along with those aged between 65 and 79, phase two will also include those considered ‘clincially extremely vulnerable’.
Ms Donnelly said that population cohort would require “special arrangements”.
She said: “We recognise that it’s much easier to call forward some of the age groups, but once we start to call forward the clinically vulnerable, that takes a little bit longer.
“There may need to be special arrangements in place. There’s careful planning around that.”
She continued: “We received a further delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccines yesterday, and another delivery is scheduled for next week and when that arrives we should have sufficient AstraZeneca vaccines to allow GPs to cover everyone in the 75-plus age group.
“In general, supplies of both AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccines remain steady and in line with expected schedules. That allows us to push ahead with the roll-out.”
The News Letter yesterday also spoke to the chair of the Royal College of GPs in Northern Ireland, Dr Laurence Dorman, about the next phase of the roll-out.
Dr Dorman said GPs are now in a position to begin vaccinating housebound elderly people.
“Until now, we haven’t had confirmation that we could do home visits with the vaccine,” he said.
“For the initial few weeks, we weren’t allowed to take it out of our practice because we hadn’t had that guidance from the MHRA. That has now come through, along with infection control guidance. That has delayed the home visits. But now that we’ve got that guidance, and now that we’ve got that new stock, it will allow us to mop up the remaining over-80s.”
Asked for his assessment of supplies so far, Dr Dorman said: “So far the supply of vaccine has met our expectations. We’re happy with that, but these things are dependent on supply chains, they’re dependent on factories and other things that are beyond our control so we all worry. But so far, so good.”
He continued: “It is frustrating because there hasn’t been that massive deposit that we would have all liked to see to allow us to get to work properly.
“But the indications and what we’ve been advised by the Department of Health is that it is going to ramp up.
“As you can imagine, as time has gone on production capabilities have increased so as soon as it comes in we will get it out to patients as soon as we can.
“People need to be reassured that every time we go to another group every practice will have criteria to mop up those people who haven’t had it yet.”
— to www.newsletter.co.uk