Northern Ireland’s mass vaccination centres will be stood down from next month, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.
They will cease issuing first doses from July 31, with staff redeployed back into the health service.
It comes as Mr Swann made a fresh plea today for people to get their jab.
A total of 2,168,431 vaccines have been administered in total, with health chiefs wanting to have 90% of our adult population vaccinated by the end of the month.
In an appeal to those yet to receive the jab, Mr Swann said the current vaccination programme will not be available indefinitely, warning: “Don’t be left behind — don’t miss out.”
He said: “The vaccination programme has been a huge logistical operation. We set it up with the aim of offering all adults their first jab by July and this has been achieved.
“The right time to get your vaccine is right now. A new surge in Covid cases is under way and getting your jab will protect you and others. It will also help our health service cope by pushing down infection numbers and hospital admissions.”
Yesterday the daily Covid-19 case number here topped 1,700 for the first time since January, with 1,776 positive tests reported by the Department of Health. This follows 537 new cases on Sunday, 1,402 on Saturday and 1,380 on Friday.
One further death of a patient who had previously tested positive for the virus was also notified yesterday, bringing the toll to 2,163, based on Department of Health figures.
Hospital patient numbers are also increasing. Yesterday morning there were 109 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with seven in intensive care. Mr Swann said getting vaccinated will never be easier or more accessible than at present.
He added: “In the coming weeks, we will inevitably have to stand down aspects of the current programme. We will maintain some provision for people who belatedly change their minds and decide they want a jab after all. But it won’t be as convenient or as widely accessible as it is currently.
“We will have to start standing down the mass vaccination centres in August, with first doses there ending on July 31. This will allow us to redeploy much-needed staff back into the health service.
“Also, the SSE Arena and the leisure centres that we’ve been using can’t be commandeered for vaccination use forever. Our GPs, meanwhile, are under intense pressure given the current levels of demand for care.
“Their vital role in the vaccination programme has shifted from first and second doses to preparing for the vaccine booster dose and the flu vaccine programme after the summer.”
Yesterday it was announced the Pfizer coronavirus vaccination is to be offered to children over the age of 12 at risk of serious illness if they contract the virus.
It comes after the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) ruled out mass vaccination of healthy children for now. JCVI updated its advice to enable 12 to 15-year-olds with specific underlying health conditions to receive vaccination.