The Department of Health has published a detailed update on Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Plans include offering everyone over 65 a vaccine by the end of next month – i.e. within the next five weeks.
Building on the success to date, a twin track approach is being initiated - with both GP practices and the regional vaccination centres vaccinating members of the public from prioritised groups.
With the focus firmly on protecting those most at risk from the virus, this expansion of the programme will cover everyone aged 65 and over and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) to Covid-19.
As well as completing the 80 plus age group, GPs will also be vaccinating those aged 70-79, as well as a large proportion of those who are CEV. Patients will be contacted by their GP practices for their jabs in the coming weeks.
The Trust run regional vaccination centres have this week started vaccinating those CEV patients who regularly attend hospital. This is crucial but complex and labour-intensive work, taking into consideration the clinical needs of each individual patient.
Within the next week, the role of the seven vaccination centres will be expanded to begin vaccinating members of the public.
As GPs focus on the 70 plus age group, the vaccination centres will in parallel offer vaccination appointments to 65-69 year-olds. These will be bookable online. Further details of the booking portal will be published later this week as well as the telephone helpline for those unable to use the online booking.
All plans are subject to the availability of vaccine supplies from manufacturers – and may therefore be subject to change due to circumstances beyond our control. To date the delivery schedule has in large part proceeded according to plan.
Under the current schedule, sufficient supplies of the Astra Zeneca vaccine will be available to ensure that GPs will be able to provide first dose vaccines in February to everyone in the 70 plus age bracket and make a significant contribution to vaccinating people who are CEV to Covid-19.
By the end of February, the Trust vaccination centres should similarly have provided first dose Pfizer vaccines to 65-69 year-olds as well as those CEV patients who are frequent hospital attenders. They will also be beginning to offer second doses to health and social care staff who had their first Pfizer doses before Christmas.
Patricia Donnelly, head of the vaccination programme, said: “I want to thank everyone for their patience and understanding, as we work through the biggest vaccination programme of our lifetime. We do not have the available supplies to vaccinate everyone now – as much as would like to. But we will get to you – as quickly as we can.
“Countries across the world are vying for supplies and, like everyone else around the world, we can only vaccinate people when we have vaccines.
“There will inevitably be ongoing frustrations – that’s unavoidable while stocks are limited. Please be assured that everyone involved in this programme is working flat out to get this done.
“Not all GPs can get through their priority lists at exactly the same speed. Patient populations are spread out differently, take-up rates can differ and other logistical challenges will undoubtedly arise.
“It may well be the case that someone a few years younger than you will get their jab a little bit earlier than you. Be assured that you won’t have long to wait for your turn.
“Don’t contact your GP practice – wait for them to contact you by text, phone or letter.
“Appointments in some cases may also have to be rescheduled – if vaccine supply schedules from England are altered at late notice. Your appointment will be rescheduled as quickly as possible.
“We are fortunate to have access to two approved vaccines – with a third to come on stream in the spring. This does mean that we have to effectively run separate vaccination programmes in parallel, with separate vaccines, separate locations and different logistical requirements."
Other key points on the vaccination programme include:
* The regional Trust led vaccination centres are nearing completion of first dose vaccinations of all health and social care staff. Their care home vaccination work is also in its final stages. That means mobile teams will have been deployed to all care homes for first and second doses.
*Health and social care staff who have not yet come forward for their first dose are encouraged to book in at the centres as soon as they can.
* The drop off in demand from health and social care staff has meant the throughput at the regional vaccination centres has temporarily dipped in recent days. That has allowed Trusts to focus on the CEV vaccinations and to prepare for the repurposing of the centres for wider public use. Throughput will climb quickly when the bookings are open to 65-69-year-olds.
* To fall within the 65-69 age bracket you must have been born between 1 April 1951 to 31 March 1956.
* Age and identity checks will be conducted at the vaccination centres. People outside the relevant age group should not misuse the online booking facility. Misuse will only make it more difficult for those who are being prioritised because of their clinical vulnerability.
* The Astra Zeneca and Pfizer vaccines are not interchangeable. Your first and second doses must be with the same vaccine.
* Due to the social distancing measures required, the GP delivery phase for vaccinations will involve a mixture of models ranging from clinics operating from a practice, hiring of nearby community halls or drive through arrangements in carparks.
* GPs have been advised to use the vaccines supplies as soon as they receive them, rather than hold until larger quantities become available.
* Carers are included in the phased vaccination prioritisation programme. Priority group six of this programme, as detailed by the JCVI, involves all individuals “aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality.”
The JCVI advises that as part of priority group six, vaccines should be provided to “those who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance, or those who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill."
Under NI’s vaccination programme, vaccinations of people in priority group six should take place in March.