Northern Ireland is one step closer to beating swine flu after a vaccine was approved by European regulators.
The news comes after the European Medicines Agency recommended to the European Commission that Pandemrix, made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), be granted a licence for use across Europe, including the UK.
It is believed the European Commission will rubber-stamp the decision on the GSK vaccine in the next few weeks.
Last month, fears that the programme was being fast-tracked past some medical trials were played down by Northern Ireland Health Minister Michael McGimpsey, who insisted the vaccine would be safe and effective.
The Government had been hoping to start vaccinating people in high-risk groups, such as those with asthma and diabetes, and health workers, in October.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said yesterday’s announcement was a step in the right direction.
“We are pleased that the European regulator has recommended that the GSK vaccine should be granted a licence by the European Commission,” he said.
“This is a positive step towards getting full licences for vaccine to protect the public.
“The European Commission must now consider the recommendations and we hope for their decision as quickly as possible.”
However, it is still unclear when it will be available to patients in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
“We are still dependent on production and delivery of sufficient vaccine to start vaccinating people,” the spokesman said.
“In Northern Ireland, plans for the vaccination of ‘at risk’ individuals and frontline health and social care workers are progressing well, and we plan to start vaccinating people as soon as the manufacturers deliver a licensed vaccine.”
The European Medicines Agency is currently recommending that adults, pregnant women and children over six months receive two doses of the vaccine, three weeks apart.