Coronavirus: 'Landmark' 500k Covid vaccine doses delivered

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More than half a million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has said.

It confirmed 478,235 are first doses, with 33.3% of NI's adult population having had at least their first jab.

The majority of adults are expected to be offered a vaccine by the summer.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann has announced new arrangements for carers booking vaccinations.

Last week, the department opened up the programme to allow carers over the age of 18 to make a booking.

However, carers are now being asked to go through a Trust coordinator or wait to be called by their GP.

Officials have played down reports that the system was being abused as no proof of caring responsibilities had been required.

Earlier this week, Patricia Donnelly, who heads up NI's vaccine programme, said the department was aware of a "couple of hundred cases" where people had tried to jump the queue.

Clare-Anne Magee, from Carers NI, said there are more than 300,000 carers in NI and hoped the process would continue to be smooth.

The "important point", she said, was to encourage carers to come forward and be vaccinated.

Minister Swann said while a "significant number" of carers had taken up the offer, some "have not yet come forward or have not yet been able to book an appointment".

Mrs Donnelly said reaching 500,000 vaccine doses meant a landmark number had been reached and the programme was ahead of schedule.

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image captionHealth officials have downplayed reports the vaccine rollout for carers was being abused

She said the scheme will push on as "quickly as supplies allow", however, she added this has been "more of a stream than a river".

To date, 25.6% of NI's overall population has had at least a first dose, compared to 27.5% in England and Scotland, 28.1% in Wales and 4.4% in the Republic of Ireland.

The supply of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to GPs is expected to increase from March, Ms Donnelly explained.

Who is eligible for a Covid vaccine in NI?

The Department of Health began rolling out its programme before Christmas, with staff in the health service among the first to be offered the vaccine, as well as residents in care homes and people aged over 80.

It has since extended eligibility to a number of groups:

  • Over 75s to over 65s
  • People who are clinically extremely vulnerable
  • People who are not clinically extremely vulnerable but who may have a milder condition that would make them vulnerable to the virus
  • People aged 18 and over who are carers, who are now being asked to go through a health trust co-ordinator or be called by their GP

On Wednesday, the Department of Health said people with learning disabilities in Northern Ireland will now be called for vaccination by their GPs, if they have not already been called to receive it.

As of 24 February, the following had received first doses:

  • 95% of over-80s
  • 90% of 75-79
  • 84% of 70-74
  • 69% of 65-69
  • 39% of people who are clinically extremely vulnerable and vulnerable

Other priority groups are currently expected to receive their first vaccine in spring, with the majority of adults in NI likely to receive their first dose in summer.

'Impact on transmissibility'

On Wednesday, Mr Swann described the vaccine rollout as a "large achievement", which should not be underestimated.

The minister said there was evidence the vaccine rollout was having an impact on both "infection and transmissibility".

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