Vaccine announcement offers ‘hope’ that the end is near

It comes as Covid-19 cases in Derry City and Strabane pass the 7,000 mark

Dr Tom Black, Northern Ireland GPC

A Derry GP has welcomed yesterday’s news that people in Northern Ireland could receive the Coronavirus vaccine as early as next week.

The first vaccinations had been scheduled from December 14 but Health Minister Robin Swann said this could ‘come forward by a few days’.

The approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was issued by the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

A number of other vaccines are at various stages of development while another is currently being considered by MHRA.

It is planned to roll-out vaccination from this month, with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) determining which population groups will receive the vaccine first.

Completion of roll-out will take up much of 2021.

Health and social care workers – including care home staff - will be amongst the first priority groups as will care home residents.

Further groups will then be added to the programme throughout 2021 based on age and clinical vulnerability factors.

Forty-one new Covid-19 cases in Derry City and Strabane yesterday bringing the total to 7,002.

Only Belfast has had more cases with 12,128.

The seven day rate of infection per 100k of population in the council area, 204.4, is twice that of Belfast at 100.8.

Four more deaths were reported across NI yesterday.

The local death toll now stands at 78.

Altnagelvin Hospital has 49 Covid inpatients, three of whom are in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Responding to news that the UK has approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, Dr Tom Black, BMA Northern Ireland council chair, said: “This is most welcome and marks an incredible achievement of modern science, given less than a year ago we hadn’t even heard of Covid-19, never mind a vaccination against it.

“It offers hope that we will finally start to bring the pandemic to an end, but we have never tried to deliver a vaccination programme of this size, and at this speed, and there are many practical hurdles to consider and overcome. 

“It’s hugely important that frontline healthcare and social care workers – at the forefront of fighting this terrible virus - are given every opportunity to get the vaccine as quickly as possible, with those at most risk getting it first.

“There is no doubt that rolling this vaccine out will be a challenge for our already stretched health service but just as everyone has worked above and beyond for the last few months I am sure that staff will now put as much effort into the vaccination programme rolling out in Northern Ireland.

“We will need as much support and unity of purpose as we can muster to ensure that it is a success.”

Dr Alan Stout, BMA-NI GP committee chair, added: “Today is a significant step towards overcoming Covid-19 and GPs share in the optimism of the rest of the nation as a future beyond the pandemic comes more clearly into sight.

“Already practices across Northern Ireland have begun preparation to make sure they can deliver the vaccination to the wider public as soon as it is feasible to do so.

“We are working with the Department of Health to make sure that we have clear guidance form them as to how we can best deliver a successful programme across Northern Ireland.”

He continued: “We would urge the public to be patient, this will not be delivered overnight and in the meantime we would urge everyone to continue to be vigilant in terms of social distancing, washing hands and wearing a face covering.

“This news is not a signal that Covid is over, it is just the beginning of the next stage in our fight against it.”

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