Northern Ireland’s 50,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines will be used to give as many first doses of the jab as possible.
GPs are expected to begin the first phase of population vaccination from January 4, starting with those aged 80 years and over and then priority groups.
Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said the initial dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab “offers as much as 70% protection against the effects of the virus”.
Following updated guidance from the Joint Committee on vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), he added that the first 50,000 doses available to NI will be used primarily as first doses for those on priority lists to “have the greatest impact on reducing mortality and hospitalisations”.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “Northern Ireland has currently 50,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines which will begin rolling out to GP Practices from Monday 4 January.
“The GP programme will run alongside the ongoing vaccination programme and will prioritise those over 80 initially but will quickly work down through the priority groups recommended for vaccination by JCVI.”
Explaining the decision, the Department of Health say JCVI recommended that as many people on the JCVI priority list as possible should be offered a first vaccine dose as the initial priority.
Dr McBride added: “The four UK Chief Medical Officers agree with JCVI that prioritising the first doses of vaccine for as many people as possible will deliver the greatest benefit in the shortest possible time.
“First and foremost we must act to protect those most as risk of severe disease and death. The evidence shows that the initial dose of vaccine offers as much as 70% protection against the effects of the virus.
“Providing that level of protection on a large scale will have the greatest impact on reducing mortality and hospitalisations, protecting the Health and Social Care system. It is the right thing to do for the public health.
“Everyone will of course receive their second dose to complete the course within the recommended timescale. We can all be assured by the level of protection that is available following the first dose and that the second dose will prolong the period of immunity.
“Within days to weeks, those vaccinated are much less likely to get severe illness. What we don’t know yet is whether they are at less risk of carrying the virus asymptomatically and passing it on to others. It is therefore really important that everyone who is vaccinated continues to follow the advice on social distancing, respiratory and hand hygiene and all the steps we know work in controlling infection and protecting others.”
Dr McBride said both programmes will continue alongside each other.
So far in Northern Ireland, 8,940 care home residents have been vaccinated, as well as 10,484 care home staff and 14,259 HSC staff via the first approved vaccine.
Health Minister Robin Swann said the latest approval by the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) paved the way for a significant acceleration of Northern Ireland’s vaccination programme.
But he also warned that the coming weeks will be among the most challenging yet in the pandemic, with our health service under immense pressure.
Minister Swann added: “The vaccine programme will transform the situation but that will take time. Between now and then, we need another big push to get through these next few months.
“We can all play our part in supporting the health service and in protecting each other from Covid-19. Please follow the public health advice to stop it spreading and please strictly abide by the current lockdown rules.”