Chief medical officer content to wait his turn for Covid jab

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer has said he is content to wait for his turn to receive the coronavirus vaccination.

Neither Dr Michael McBride nor Health Minister Robin Swann have yet received the jab while the chief executives of the health trusts have.

The vaccinations are being rolled out with a twin-track approach of pensioners over the age of 70 to receive the AstraZeneca jab from their GPs while those over the age of 65 have been invited to book appointments for the Pfizer dose at regional centres.

Coronavirus – Wed Dec 2, 2020
Coronavirus – Wed Dec 2, 2020

Dr McBride stressed the importance of the rollout as the faster spreading UK variant of the virus becomes more prevalent in Northern Ireland.

However he also warned that those who have received the vaccination must all continue to limit social contacts and follow public health advice as they may still be able to spread Covid-19 despite being inoculated.

Concerns have been voiced by some about the twin-track approach, with complaints people in the 65-69-year-old age bracket may receive the vaccination before older pensioners and younger people who are clinically vulnerable.

By Thursday, some 199,211 doses of the vaccine had been administered, including 175,284 first doses and 23,927 second doses.

Patricia Donnelly, head of the vaccine rollout in Northern Ireland, said the AstraZeneca vaccine is easier to transport so is being used in GP practices, whereas the Pfizer jab is more suited to a larger centre.

“We have been working with GPs, we have been working our way through the priority groups and we had an opportunity that we recognised in the last week that as the end of the first stage of the programme of the Pfizer vaccine in the larger vaccination centres was coming to a close, we had more Pfizer vaccine than we had predicted,” she told the BBC.

“We had to find a way to use it and we couldn’t give it to GPs, it comes at ultra low temperatures, in very large packs and only has five days to use up, therefore we needed to look at who we could take into the mass vaccination centres and who we could do that quickly with.”

She said it was easier for GPs to continue with their plans to vaccinate the over 70s, and for the regional centres to take over 65s, an age group which also matched the 90-100,000 doses of Pfizer which they had.

Further supplies of the AstraZeneca jab are due to arrive in Northern Ireland this week and next and will go out to GPs.

Dr McBride was also asked about the vaccinating of the chief executives of the heath trusts in Northern Ireland with frontline staff.

“There is no clear cut definition of front line … there is no neat answer to that,” he said.

However Dr McBride said he felt the responsible thing for him to do personally was to take all measures to protect himself and his family from the virus.

“I will take the vaccine when it is my turn, when the vaccine is offered to me, I am not more important or less important than anyone else,” he said.

“I will be delighted to get the vaccine because I know it is a safe vaccine, it is an effective vaccine and I would encourage everyone else to get the vaccine.”