Over-40s could be offered Covid-19 vaccines 'in the next week'

  • Those aged over 40 in Northern Ireland could be part of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout "in the next week", Health Minister Robin Swann has indicated. 

    He said he hopes the programme will move to the next age cohort within days, dependent on vaccine supplies, following the opening of the SSE Arena as a mass vaccination centre on the same day the community pharmacy vaccine service launch across NI. 

    Currently all those aged 50 and over, the clinically vulnerable/shielding, and those working in health and social care in Northern Ireland with a letter from their employers can book a vaccination.

    On 18 March Patricia Donnelly, head of the vaccination programme in Northern Ireland, told the Stormont Health Committee that the over-40s age group may need to wait until mid-April for their jabs.

    She had at the time said: "We have scaled down slightly the opening weeks in the SSE Arena.

    "It has the capacity for 40,000 [a week] but in the first weeks we're looking at 11,000, building up to 20,000 and then up to 30,000 in subsequent weeks.

    "We had hoped by the time we would launch the SSE Arena that we would be opening to the over 40s. I think that will be maybe delayed by two weeks but we'll keep that under review and it will very much depend on the remaining deliveries that we get from AstraZeneca.

    "We have tried to find some mitigation through further use of the Pfizer vaccine. So, it will slightly delay it, but it won't, I think, reduce our plans overall."

    Mr Swann has implied that this delay is now to be reduced, saying: "We'll look at our management systems to see uptake of the current age cohorts as well before we make that decision, but I would hope to be making that announcement within the next week."

    Around 65% of pharmacies (almost 350) in NI - can now provide the coronavirus jabs to those eligible, along with several regional centres and GP surgeries. 

    The Department of Health's chief pharmaceutical officer Cathy Harrison was among those who availed of the service at Timoney Pharmacy in Lambeg on Monday.

    She said it is important to offer people choice on where they can get their jabs, commenting, "This really is about choice, the introduction of the pharmacy service is really about increasing flexibility.

    "What we want to do is, as soon as we get the vaccine into Northern Ireland, we want to get it used and administered as quickly as possible, and having 343 pharmacies is really going to help us on top of the general practitioners and the SSE Arena."

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    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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