The rollout of the coronavirus vaccine to all of Northern Ireland's care homes has been completed, Health Minister Robin Swann has announced.
On Friday Mr Swann confirmed first and second doses of the vaccine had been offered to all care home residents and staff, calling it an "an important milestone in the battle against Covid-19".
Vaccination teams from the various health and social care trusts have been visiting care homes since the vaccination programme began in December.
Mr Swann said the he last remaining homes have now been visited, with the programme schedule allowing sufficient time for outbreaks of infection to conclude and vaccination to subsequently be offered to those care homes.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Lourda Geoghegan said provisional figures showed a "high rate of uptake" of the vaccine among residents and staff, but not everyone wished to receive it.
She warned that while the vaccination programme is welcome no vaccine in history has ever been 100% effective and a "small minority of people", including care home residents, may not derive the full benefits from the vaccine.
Dr Geoghegan said that definitive data is still awaited on the impact of vaccination on transmission of the virus and It cannot be ruled out that some vaccinated people could still pass the virus on to others.
There are currently 28 active outbreaks of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland's care homes. Dr Geoghegan said that while the virus would not stop outbreaks from happening it would save lives.
Mr Swann warned measures to protect care home residents and staff from coronavirus will not be relaxed at this stage.
The health minister said measures including maintenance of social distancing, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a programme of regular asymptomatic testing will remain in place.
An epidemiology study is now commencing which will examine the impact of vaccination on care homes in NI.
“Vaccination will provide vital protection to our care home residents. It will save lives and reduce serious illness," Mr Swann said.
“My heartfelt thanks go all those involved in delivering the vaccination programme across our care homes. I very much welcome the fact that this aspect of our vaccination programme is completed.
“We will need to maintain a precautionary approach, particularly given the prevalence of the virus in the wider community and the fact that vaccination of the overall population remains at a relatively early stage.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the completion of the care home vaccination programme was "fantastic news".
"It's a real comfort that these precious members of our society, and their amazing carers, have this protection," she said.
"Thanks to all our vaccination teams."
Dr Geoghegan urged everyone who has received the vaccine to maintain "maximum vigilance" and follow the basic advice to stop the spread of the virus.
“It is far too early for anyone to even think of dropping their guard. That message is obviously vitally important in our care homes, given the particular threat Covid-19 poses for elderly residents," she said.
“We expect the impact of the vaccination programme on care homes to be felt over the coming weeks and months. We currently see a very welcome reduction in care home outbreaks. Vaccination will not stop all outbreaks happening, nor will it bring existing outbreaks to an immediate close.
“However, it will protect thousands of residents from serious illness and loss of life.”
Meanwhile, as of Friday 537,086 vaccines have been administered in Northern Ireland, of which 505,188 were first doses and 31,898 were second doses.