British Medical Association says Republic is ‘weeks’ behind North in vaccinating

BMA claims more co-operation is needed to ensure ‘single-island approach’ to curtailing the pandemic

The Republic is weeks behind the North in vaccinating people against Covid-19 and more co-operation is needed to ensure a “single-island approach” to curtailing the pandemic, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA in Northern Ireland, has called for a particular focus on Border counties where, he says, rates of infection are worst.

Describing it as “a race of vaccination against the virus”, the Derry-based GP said the Republic “are a bit behind us, but only a couple of weeks behind us, and they will catch up with us”.

“But we do need to look at this very carefully as a one island problem because we know the Border counties – in Armagh, in Monaghan and Cavan – are those areas with the most infection, the highest rate of infection, and we know that the virus doesn’t respect any borders.


“So we should work closely with our cousins in the Republic of Ireland to make sure there is a single-island approach to this, just as we have a single UK approach.”

Dr Black said he was “optimistic” about restrictions in the North being relaxed by the summer, with 20 per cent of the population already having received a first jab.

In the Republic 5 per cent of the population had got a vaccine by the weekend, with 1.7 per cent fully vaccinated, according to the HSE.

Dr Black credited “better access” to Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine supplies as well as the establishment of seven large vaccination centres for the North’s progress in inoculating the public.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Sunday, Dr Margaret Harris, of the World Health Organisation (WHO), praised the North’s approach as an “amazing job” and “a great model for everyone else”.

However, Dr Black warned that seven weeks into the latest restrictions, which are due to last until at least March 5th, that “we still need our lockdown”.

Stormont ministers are to meet this week to decide on whether the current restrictions should be maintained or eased.

Secondary schools

Casting doubt over the reopening of secondary schools in the North next month, Dr Black said it would be a “big ask”, and suggested “maybe primary schools” could open up again while its impact was monitored. The transmission rate was “much lower in younger children”.

Schools have been ordered shut until at least March 8th.

The R number – a measure of how the disease spreads – was at 0.8 and reopening schools would increase this by between 0.3 and 0.6, Dr Black told BBC NI’s Sunday Politics.

He said despite everyone being “fatigued” by the lockdown, any loosening of restrictions needed to be in “increments and small steps”, adding the “last thing we need is a fourth wave”.

“This will, hopefully, be our last lockdown, so let’s do it properly,” he said.

Another 11 people with Covid-19 died in the North, Stormont’s department of health reported on Sunday. There were a further 176 confirmed cases of the disease, with 476 patients in hospital, 58 of them in intensive care.