Dr Alan Stout who chairs the British Medical Association’s GP committee in Northern Ireland, said those in the over-70s age category should begin to receive invites for their second dose within the next few weeks.
He was speaking to the News Letter after the opening of a mass vaccination centre – with the capacity to administer 40,000 doses per week – at the SSE Arena in Belfast on Monday.
It has also emerged that the Department of Health is preparing to offer a ‘booster’ shot to people in the autumn or winter.
The vaccine roll-out is proceeding along five phases – beginning with care home residents and health workers in phase one and then proceeding largely on the basis of age.
An update to the plan published earlier this month lists ‘Autumn/Winter booster programme 2021’ as phase five.
Dr Stout said: “There’s a lot of talk about needing a third dose into the autumn, and that will be tailored on a few things. One might be to counter a variant but also simply to boost the immunity from the first two vaccines.
“There’s nothing definite on that yet, and there’s certainly no definite timing on that yet but it’s in there in the plan so that it can be addressed if it is required.”
In the meantime, Dr Stout said GPs would focus on second doses while new patients would be asked to book appointments at one of the mass vaccine centres spread across Northern Ireland.
He said he “anticipates” a formal announcement will be made this week, inviting those in the over-40s age category to book an appointment for their first dose.
“Most of those will be going to the mass vaccination centres for the first doses, while we are doing our second doses,” he said.
“Practices, at the moment, will be focusing very much on giving the second doses as opposed to new patients.
“Those new patients, as we move down the cohorts, will go to the SSE or their local trust centre.
“It means we can keep moving with both at the same time, and the speed and the coverage will be so much better.”
Right now, Dr Stout said, GPs are focusing on the over-80s age category who were the first to be invited in for their jabs at the beginning of this year.
“I think the over-80s category should be completed over the next week or two. They were really targeted, and we focused on them in early January. We are right on their second doses at the moment so we should be completed very soon.”
Asked if those in the over-70s age group should expect to be called in for their second dose over the next few weeks, Dr Stout said: “Yes, it will be that group next.”