Covid-19 vaccine supply issue could put Northern Ireland back by four weeks

One coronavirus-related death and 169 more cases of Covid-19 reported in North

Nurses prepare vaccine jabs at the Lakeland Forum vaccination centre in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, on March 12th. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/PA Wire

Nurses prepare vaccine jabs at the Lakeland Forum vaccination centre in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, on March 12th. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/PA Wire

 

In the “worst-case scenario” the Northern Ireland vaccine schedule will be put back by four weeks, the head of the North’s vaccination programme Patricia Donnelly has told Stormont Assembly members.

On Thursday, in outlining how the North would be affected by the reduced coronavirus vaccine supply to Britain and Northern Ireland Ms Donnelly said, while it could put back the timetable by four weeks, it was hoped the delay would be no more than two weeks.

The North’s health department in its daily afternoon bulletin on Thursday reported one more Covid-19 death, taking the North’s total to 2,101.

There were four coronavirus deaths in the past week, compared to 27 in the previous week.

There were 169 new cases of the virus bringing the total to 115,511.

Hospital bed occupancy is at 99 per cent. There are 167 patients receiving Covid-19 treatment in Northern Ireland hospitals with 16 in intensive care and 14 on ventilators.

British supplies

Ms Donnelly made her forecast when briefing members of the Assembly’s health committee on the warning from NHS England that there could be a “significant reduction” in the numbers of vaccine doses available in April.

So far in Northern Ireland 640,801 people have received a first dose of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines while 63,946 have got a second jab.

Ms Donnelly said that all current vaccine bookings will be honoured while vaccines also were being reserved for those due to receive a second jab. In Northern Ireland most second vaccinations happen about eight to ten weeks after the first jab.

“I think, worst case scenario, it probably puts us back by four weeks. The mitigation measures that we put in place we hope will only delay us by two weeks, so it won’t have a huge impact,” she told the committee.

Currently the focus was on a “rolling programme” of vaccinating 50-59-year-olds.

Ms Donnelly said however that the delay in supply was likely to put back plans to vaccinate the over-40s which was due to begin at the start of April. That programme now was likely to be pushed back to later in April or possibly towards the end of the month.

She said the plan to open a mass vaccination centre at the SSE Arena entertainment centre in the Belfast docklands would proceed as scheduled on March 29th.

However the initial level of vaccinations there would be reduced because of the delay in supply.

“We have scaled down slightly the opening weeks in the SSE Arena. It has the capacity for 40,000 [a week] but in the first weeks we’re looking at 11,000 building up to 20,000 and then up to 30,000 in subsequent weeks,” she explained.

She added that British military personnel were likely to be assisting in the vaccination programme at the SSE Arena.

Ms Donnelly also said that efforts were continuing to ensure that members of the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community, who were more prone to have suspicions about the programme, would take up the vaccine.

This was being done by targeting that community through health experts, “senior leaders” and social media.

She added that there were others who were hesitant about taking up the vaccine and here also the North’s Public Health Agency was engaged in messaging “to try to give them confidence about coming forward”.

Ms Donnelly said she understood that the delay was down to a holdup in supply from India due to “technical” rather than “political” difficulties.