‘Watch this space’: Acceleration of NI coronavirus vaccine roll-out expected after landmark 500,000 doses reached

Northern Ireland’s coronavirus vaccine programme is now set for “further acceleration” after a landmark was passed with half-a-million jabs administered.

The head of the roll-out, Patricia Donnelly, said she expects the quantity of supply to “increase significantly” next month.

Health Minister Robin Swann, meanwhile, described the programme as “something that all of Northern Ireland should be proud of”.

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More than a third of the adult population have now had at least one dose. By contrast, the figure in the Republic of Ireland is less than 6%.

Patricia Donnelly, speaking at a Stormont press conference, said: “We want to not just maintain but build on this progress to date.

“Supplies of Astra Zeneca vaccines to GPs have been more of a stream than a river but we expect the quantities to increase significantly next month.

“We have big plans for further acceleration. Watch this space.”

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Health Minister Robin Swann welcomed today’s landmark figure and praised the dedication of all involved in the vaccination programme: “On December 8 2020 we administered the first Covid- 19 vaccine in Northern Ireland and today only two months into 2021 we have passed the half million mark. That is a huge achievement that has been made possible by the collective effort of all the HSC system.

“Last week my Department increased vaccination bookings and opened up to all carers aged 18 and over in Northern Ireland. Feedback from the carer organisations indicates that a significant number of their members have taken up the offer and have already had the vaccine or have booked in the coming days. There are some carers who have not yet come forward or have not yet been able to book an appointment. My Department has put in place alternative arrangements via Trust carer co-ordinators and carers organisations who will facilitate bookings. Carers who are known to GPs are also being called forward by their GPs for vaccination.

“I am pleased to report that the regional vaccination centres are heavily booked for the next few weeks. I can also announce today that further vaccination appointments are being made available in the centres. These slots will be for those who are in the 65 plus age group and those who received a shielding letter because they are clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid-19.

“I would strongly encourage people in these two groups to book their appointments as soon as possible and to do so online if possible, to ease the pressure on the very busy telephone booking system.”