Health bosses are facing questions after deviating from official guidance by vaccinating administrative staff who have no contact with patients.
Guidance issued by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) states that staff involved in direct patient care, non-clinical staff who come into contact with patients, laboratory and pathology staff such as funeral directors, and care assistants should be included in the first priority group.
However, it has emerged that health service office staff who are on maternity leave and others who do not come into contact with patients have received the vaccine.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for JCVI, said: "The JCVI's advice on Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible.
"As the single greatest risk of death from Covid-19 is older age, prioritisation is primarily based on age. It is estimated that vaccinating everyone in the priority groups would prevent 99% of deaths, including those associated with occupational exposure to infection."
DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley, a member of the Stormont health committee, has called on Health Minister Robin Swann to provide clarity on the matter: "I think this is particularly concerning given that I have been calling for teachers, and particularly special education teachers, to get the vaccine but I have been told by the Department of Health that they are following the guidance from the JCVI on who should be prioritised."
The concerns have been raised at a time when some people over the age of 80 are still waiting for their first jab. At the same time some GP surgeries have this week begun to administer the vaccine to patients over the age of 75.
The Department of Health last night released details of plans to accelerate the rollout of the vaccine in the coming weeks, with everyone over the age of 65 to be offered a jab within the next five weeks.
The Department of Health last night said non-front line staff played a crucial role in ensuring the health service can run effectively.
It added: "We would hope that no one would go down the route of negating the contribution of any of our staff."