THE Department of Health has set out its plans for the early deployment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Northern Ireland and Tyrone and Mid-Ulster are among the vaccine centres.
The Department said the programme “represents an unprecedented logistical exercise that will take many months to complete”.
Progress will depend on available supply across the UK and is dependent on production and delivery schedules. The timescale for the approval of further vaccines will be an important factor in the wider roll-out of the programme.
The process of determining clinical prioritisation is being closely guided by Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advice.
Early deployment in Northern Ireland has three central aims:
To protect vulnerable patients and residents at higher risk of severe disease and mortality;
To protect staff working in high risk areas for exposure;
To protect staff members at highest personal risk of morbidity and mortality.
The exact timing of all plans will be subject to vaccine availability.
The focus in the coming weeks will therefore include care home residents and staff (including supported living centres where the clinical risk is considered to be similar to a care home); health and social care staff working with patient groups at higher risk (including embedded support staff); staff working in higher risk settings; staff who are themselves at increased personal risk due to being in extremely vulnerable high risk categories or having other defined clinical risk factors.
In advance of the GP element of the programme starting, active consideration is being given to options for extending the programme to begin vaccinating over 80s in the community.
Seven Trust vaccination centres are being established for the staff vaccination process. The locations are:
Belfast Trust – Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast;
South Eastern Trust – Ulster Hospital, Dundonald;
Southern Trust – South Lake Leisure Centre, Craigavon;
Northern Trust – Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena;
Western Trust - Foyle Arena, Londonderry; Omagh Leisure Centre, Omagh; and Lakeside Leisure Centre, Enniskillen.
Mobile vaccination teams operating from Trust centres will take the vaccine to residents and staff in care homes across Northern Ireland.
Trust staff are working closely with care homes to ensure that arrangements are as safe and effective as possible.
HSC Trusts will inform their staff who are in the early deployment groups and encourage them to book their vaccinations through a digital booking platform.
Anyone who is pregnant or breast feeding, or who is planning to get pregnant in the next three months, is not advised to get the vaccine.
The full roll-out of the vaccine is scheduled to continue until the summer of 2021. Further population groups will be added to the programme on a phased basis, with priority given to age and other clinical vulnerability factors.
Subject to the availability of a suitable vaccine, it is intended from early January 2021 to expand roll-out of the programme through primary care led vaccination clinics.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann has asked people objecting to Covid-19 vaccination on anti-abortion grounds to think again.
The Minister said some pro-life activists are ironically criticising a vaccination programme that will save many lives.
“The Covid-19 vaccination programme is not compulsory. People are entitled to their own views and I fully respect that," said Mr Swann.
“However, they are not entitled to mislead others and potentially deter them from taking a vaccine that will protect them from a lethal virus.
“Making unfounded claims on social media is overstepping the line and I urge them to think again.
“Firstly, it should be stressed that the Pfizer vaccine does not contain any human cells.
“Secondly, and crucially, It must be remembered that vaccines have saved millions of lives worldwide.
“We need widespread take-up of the Covid-19 vaccine in NI to protect the population, particularly older and vulnerable citizens in our community. Widespread take-up will also help us move gradually towards the easing of restrictions in society.
“It is disappointing that people calling themselves pro-life would be objecting to vaccination programme that will save many lives.
"It is the case that the development and testing of some vaccines can include the use of human cell lines grown in labs, having been replicated from fetal cells obtained in previous decades following abortions.
“If people want to object on those grounds and leave themselves unprotected from Covid-19, that is their choice. They will be at odds with other pro-life advocates including the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference who issued a very clear statement this week.
“Any link between any vaccination development and abortions is incidental and remote, involving cells replicated in labs.
“As the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference stated, refusal to accept a vaccine could contribute to significant loss of life in the community and especially among those who are most vulnerable.
“In matters of conscience, I believe saving the lives of our fellow citizens in the here and now must come first.”