Coronavirus: Rollout of Pfizer vaccine ‘could begin in NI next week’ - 1.5m doses coming here in first stage

Health Minister Robin Swann has revealed that the first vaccinations against Covid-19 could begin in Northern Ireland as soon as next week.

He welcomed a “hugely signifcant day” after the UK approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for widespread use.

The UK is the first country in the world to approve the vaccine.

The first vaccinations had been scheduled from 14 December but Mr Swann said this could now be brought forward by a number of days.

He added: “My department has the plans and preparations in place.

“There will be difficult days ahead, people must not let their guard down, but there are brighter days ahead.”

Reacting to the approval of the Pfizer vaccine, Stormont health minister Robin Swann tweeted: “This is a hugely significantly day. My department has the plans and preparations in place.

“There will still be difficult days ahead and people must not let their guard down, but there are brighter days ahead.”

A vaccination syringe

UK regulator, the MHRA, said the jab, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, is safe for rollout.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said the vaccine approval is an early “Christmas present”.

“This does give us the road back to normality and I think everybody has been waiting for that,” she said.

“I’m incredibly proud today that the United Kingdom has been able to do this and that we will all benefit from this vaccine coming.”

Mrs Foster said the rollout of the vaccine would be a “huge challenge”.

She said the Stormont Executive also has to plan for economic recovery.

“So we need to find a way out of this that brings recovery back to the United Kingdom and to Northern Ireland, of course, in particular, and that’s what we’ll be working on in the weeks to come as well as working on, of course, all of the logistical challenges on the rollout of the vaccine and mass testing,” she said.

And Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was “positive news we have all been waiting for”.

She said phase-one of the rollout in Northern Ireland would begin with priority groups, including the over-80s, care home residents and staff and health and social care workers.

It is thought Northern Ireland will receive about 1.5m doses, with 25,000 coming next week in the first stage.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Colm Gildernew has welcomed the announcement that the medicines regulator, the MHRA, has authorised a Covid-19 vaccine for widespread use.

He said: “I welcome this announcement that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will now begin to be rolled out.

“This will give great hope to the public after nine months of the pandemic which has had a devastating impact on our communities, our economy and health services.

“This is just one vaccine but hopefully other vaccines being developed will be ready for clinical authorisation in the near future to ensure we have a vaccination programme that can fully meet the needs of people here.

“It is important those most at risk are prioritised from the outset of the vaccination programme.

“However, we must be clear that a full roll-out of vaccines could take months.

“It also remains imperative that the Find Track Trace Isolate and Support system continues to be scaled up to cope with the virus given the complete roll-out of the vaccine could take some time.

“We must not let down our guards – particularly as we go into the Christmas season.

“We need to continue to practice social distancing, good hand hygiene and the appropriate use of PPE.”