The North's chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride received his shot of the AstraZeneca vaccination on Monday morning as Northern Ireland continues to use the vaccine despite its suspension in the Republic due to clotting concerns.
The decision not to follow the example of the South was taken after the North's health Minister Robin Swann and his senior officials sought an update from the UK's MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) about its continued use.
The MHRA advised that it was satisfied that AstraZeneca was safe and effective.
Dr McBride travelled to the Ulster Hospital in east Belfast on Monday morning to receive his AstraZeneca vaccine. He was entitled to the jab as from this Monday morning as anyone aged over 50 in Northern Ireland, which is his age category, can now book a vaccination.
“I was delighted to get the AstraZeneca vaccine this morning and I will be coming forward on the 24th of May in the SSE Arena to get my second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he told reporters after getting his jab.
“This is a safe, effective vaccine as recommended by MHRA. And let’s remember this virus kills people, kills people my age, younger people and older people. The benefit is strongly in favour of people getting this vaccine at this time,” he said.
“I was very relieved and pleased to get the vaccine today, and I would encourage everyone else to get the vaccine, when they are called, when they come to the top of the queue,” he said.
“This is part of our pathway out of this virus, out of this pandemic. This virus has taken a huge toll on each and every one of us. This hopefully is the beginning of us having a different balance as we continue to fight this pandemic,” he added.
Dr McBride said the MHRA continued to view all the relevant data and they saw no "causal link" between the four clotting cases in adults as reported in Norway and the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Dr McBride said he was given notice of the decision to suspend the vaccination in the Republic on Sunday. He had a lengthy discussion on the matter with the State's deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn.
The decision in the South was a matter for the health service there, he said. “Those are rightly matters for the authorities in the Republic. They made a very precautionary decision - they have recognised that - while they assess the evidence more fully,” he said.
“The MHRA has looked at and will continue to look at the evidence and I am satisfied that it was the right thing to do,” he said.
“The balance of risk and benefit is to continue with the vaccine and that’s why I’m here today getting my vaccine,” added Dr McBride.
The chief medical officer said while the vaccination programme was more advanced in the North, he wanted “our friends and neighbours in the Republic of Ireland vaccinated as quickly as possible”.
“We have had a bit of a head start. But I hope that they will catch up in the near future because it’s really important that on both of these islands that we have as many people protected from what is a very nasty virus as soon as possible,” he said.
Mr Swann later told the Assembly that he was disappointed that he only learned of the Republic’s decision to temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine through the media.
He said he had now asked for a review of the memorandum of understanding between the health authorities in the South and North that was designed to enhance information-sharing on Covid-19.
Mr Swann said that in contrast he had on Sunday given the Minister for Health Minister Stephen Donnelly advance notice of his intention to continue using AstraZeneca in Northern Ireland.
The North’s health department in a separate statement said that “AstraZeneca vaccines are helping to protect the most vulnerable in our community from Covid-19, saving lives and reducing hospitalisation levels”.
Meanwhile, the North’s health department in its daily afternoon bulletin reported one more coronavirus death taking the death toll to 2,099.
There were 121 new Covid-19 cases bringing the total to 115,017.
Hospital bed occupancy is at 93 per cent. There are 182 patients receiving Covid-19 treatment with 22 in intensive care and 16 on ventilators.