Northern Ireland’s vaccine rollout slowest in UK

Vaccination figures released in March by the Department of Health show Northern Ireland to be “significantly ahead” of the original schedule for rollout, but the region has still been the slowest in the UK in terms of first dose rollout for over 60s.

Vaccination figures released on 14 March revealed the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland on vaccine rollout. 70,445 people over 80 years of age had all received their first doses, along with 57,152 of the 75–79 age group, 71,147 of 70–74s and 67,258 of the 65–69 age group.

46,411 of those deemed clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) had also received their first doses as of early March. Many CEV people will be over the age of 65 and as such are being covered in their age groups rather than the CEV grouping.

Overall, 677,602 vaccines had been administered by 14 March, 625,195 of those being first doses and 52,407 being second doses. These numbers divide “almost exactly evenly” between GP practices and Trust-run vaccination centres. Speaking in early March, Health Minister Robin Swann MLA said that the “figures mark the tremendous achievement of our health professionals and volunteers in rolling out the vaccination programme with greater efficiency”. “I know it will provide very welcome reassurance and a sense of hope for many families as we see hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens gaining the protection of the vaccine.”

Swann added that the expected supply of the vaccine is to increase “significantly” in the month of March and that the programme was “moving very well through the priority groups”. However, comparisons with English data released on 7 March and Welsh and Scottish data released on 10 March show Northern Ireland to have had the slowest vaccine rollout rate for over 60s of any UK region.

Northern Ireland has a 67 per cent rate of those over 60 who have received their first dose, behind Wales’ 81 per cent rate, Scotland’s 85 per cent rate and England’s 89 per cent rate. When England is further broken down into its regions, Northern Ireland is still at the bottom of the table, with Wales and London (82 per cent) closest; every other region of England has achieved a vaccination rate of over 85 per cent.

The UK Government has so far ordered over 450 million doses of vaccines across eight manufacturers. Three of these have been approved for use thus far: Oxford-AstraZeneca; Pfizer-BioNTech; and Moderna. Use of AstraZeneca vaccines has been suspended in eight countries due to fears around blood clotting that originated in Norway but the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has thus far advised against its withdrawal in the UK. With a possible surplus of vaccines in the UK and with the Republic of Ireland delivering less than half of its expected vaccines in the first quarter of the year, First Minister Arlene Foster has suggested that any surplus could be given to the Republic in order to speed up the process of an Ireland-wide reopening.

“It is my desire, of course, as a neighbour to see everyone vaccinated on the island of Ireland and I very much hope that the vaccine programme in the Republic does pick up pace because it’s important that if people are coming and travelling across the border that they are vaccinated, but also for the population of the Republic as well,” Foster said.

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