By Michael McHugh, PA
Preparations are well under way to begin the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccination programme from next month in Northern Ireland, Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann has said.
The plans include fixed mass centres for receiving the jab and the deployment of mobile units to care homes.
A total of four million doses have been ordered, with between 5,000 and 8,000 vaccines are expected to be delivered per day. It is expected a total of 100,000 healthcare staff can be processed over three weeks.
Mr Swann said: “The planned mass vaccination programme will be a major logistical exercise lasting many months, taking us to the middle of next year at least.
Vaccination will increasingly do the heavy lifting for us in 2021 in the battle against coronavirus
“While I am cautious by nature, I am optimistic that vaccination will increasingly do the heavy lifting for us in 2021 in the battle against coronavirus.
“I am also very heartened by the scale of the preparatory work already undertaken for a vaccination programme in Northern Ireland.”
Regulatory approval has not yet been issued, so any planning will be provisional.
Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said the rollout of the vaccine presented huge logistical challenges and has established a taskforce to take the work forward.
Northern Ireland will be guided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on which groups will receive the vaccine first.
It is expected that care home residents and health and social care workers will be the first priority groups, and further groups in early 2021 will be based on age and clinical vulnerability.
GPs and community pharmacists will also have a key role to play as the programme progresses next year, and large numbers of staff have already been recruited.
It is essential that people do not relax their guard against Covid-19 now
A public information campaign will encourage take-up and touch on issues concerning safety and the robustness of the regulatory process.
Mr Swann added: “The progress towards a vaccine is highly impressive and extremely welcome. However, I have to reiterate that regulatory hurdles have still to be cleared so we should take nothing for granted.
“It is essential that people do not relax their guard against Covid-19 now, just because hopes are rising on the vaccine front.”
It comes as a further eight people with Covid-19 were confirmed to have died by the region’s Department of Health, with another 442 confirmed cases of the virus recorded.
Work to prepare for the distribution of a vaccine is also underway in the Republic, with the Government set to receive a rollout plan by December.
Ireland has signed up for advanced purchase orders for more than 10 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines.
The Government is bidding for doses through the EU system and now has capacity on pre-order to comfortably provide enough vaccine for the entire country.
Europe’s drugs watchdog said on Thursday it expects to receive the first application for conditional marketing approval for a Covid-19 vaccine “in the coming days”.