*Page last updated 19/01/2021*
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams of scientists across the world have been working to develop potential vaccines against the virus. Three vaccines have now been authorised for use in the UK by the MHRA, while more are expected to follow.
Plans for the vaccination programme are moving at pace and the situation is changing on a frequent basis.
Prioritisation of vaccine in the early phase of the programme
Along with the other devolved administrations, NI will adhere to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advice on prioritisation of the vaccine as published here on 2 December 2020.
The JCVI has now published advice on the immediate priority groups for the early phases of vaccine deployment. The JCVI specifically advises that “the first priorities for any COVID-19 vaccination programme should be the prevention of COVID-19 mortality and the protection of health and social care staff and systems. Secondary priorities could include vaccination of those at increased risk of hospitalisation and at increased risk of exposure, and to maintain resilience in essential public services”.
Operational deployment of vaccine in Northern Ireland
Planners in NI have been working on a number of deployment models for roll out of the vaccine to the wider population. While the first batches of vaccines have now been received in NI, it may be several weeks or months before substantial quantities of vaccine are widely available, therefore, initially the vaccine will be targeted to protect those at greatest risk.
The number of vaccines available at any one time will also have an impact on how they are used, in line with the prioritisation guidance issued by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The JCVI advice recommends that older adults resident in care homes, care home workers, all those 80 years of age and over and healthcare and social care workers are the early priority cohorts for vaccination.
Teams of vaccinators have been trained from a range of professional backgrounds in addition to extant HSC staff and primary care staff.
In order to facilitate maximum vaccine deployment and uptake, overall the vaccination model will include Trust mobile and roving teams who will focus on those groups for whom travel to a vaccination centre would be challenging, such as the elderly and care home residents or a supported living centre where the clinical risk was considered to be similar to a care home. When these Trust mobile teams are present at a care home, they will also offer vaccination to all staff as well as residents. The mobile team element of the programme commenced 14 December 2020.
Vaccination programme published
The Department of Health has published the phased plan for NI’s Covid-19 vaccination programme. The Northern Ireland model for vaccine deployment has been designed to be pragmatic, agile and flexible.
As has been repeatedly emphasised, the rate of progress will be dependent on the availability of vaccines, supplied as part of UK-wide arrangements.
The deployment plans involve a mixture of delivery models which include:
- large fixed regional vaccination sites run by HSC Trusts,
- mobile Trust teams to visit care homes,
- Primary Care based model.
The vaccines are received via Public Health England before being stored in a distribution hub. From there, the vaccine is delivered, as required, to Trust pharmacy sites or a GP practice.
It is also intended that community pharmacy will be involved as the programme continues to be rolled out, subject to the availability of sufficient supplies of a suitable vaccine.
The implementation of the vaccination programme will continue to closely follow the prioritisation list recommended by JCVI.
Community Pharmacy Staff COVID Vaccination
The Department of Health has confirmed (11th Jan 2021) that Community pharmacy staff are a designated healthcare worker group that can avail of COVID vaccination. Appointments with HSC Trusts to provide vaccination for community pharmacy staff will be available to book with immediate effect.
All Pharmacy staff availing of the vaccine are encouraged to read the following leaflet: ‘COVID-19 vaccination – protection for health and social care workers’ available here which describes the COVID-19 vaccination for health and social care workers, including HSC Trust employees, care home staff and domiciliary and primary care staff. The leaflet explains why it’s important to get your vaccine and includes information on potential side effects and what to do next.
In order to access an appointment, contractors should facilitate staff to book online via the secure HSC link: