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Jab and selfie: vaccination programme boss says decision an attempt to encourage young people


Uptake of Covid vaccine in young people has been "incredibly slow" Picture posed

Uptake of Covid vaccine in young people has been "incredibly slow" Picture posed

Uptake of Covid vaccine in young people has been "incredibly slow" Picture posed

Rules stopping people from taking photographs inside mass vaccination centres were axed in a bid to increase the uptake of the jab in young people.

Officials decided to allow people attending for their jab to take selfies in the hope young people would post the pictures on social media and encourage friends to come forward for vaccination, the Stormont health committee has been told.

It is one of a range of measures put in place after the uptake rate of the vaccine "went off a cliff" as the programme opened up to younger people.

Patricia Donnelly, who heads up Northern Ireland's vaccination programme, appeared in front of the health committee on Thursday morning and told members: "We were the first in the UK to open to the under 30s and that's been open for two months, however, their uptake has been incredibly slow."

Ms Donnelly told the committee 2.2m doses have been administered, with 83% of the adult population now having had one vaccine.

She continued: "We are comparable, and indeed ahead, of other parts of the UK and Ireland until we get to the under 50s and then you will from 40 to 49, only 83% of the population and then it drops down further to 70% of 30 to 39s.

"They're still coming forward but slowly and we've not yet reached 60%.

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"We have seven vaccination centres and in the last month, the book-ins to these centres have been very low, so we started to open it to walk-ins.

"We would do anything to try and get people to come forward but even those are very low.

"The last couple of days has seen a pick-up as we're nearing the end of first dose completion there and we will continue the second appointments to mid-July but the real energies in the last four to six weeks has been in pop-up and mobile teams."

Ms Donnelly said these clinics have specifically targeted areas where young people are, such as high streets, estates and sporting events.

There is also a two-week campaign being planned for the return of university and further education students.

She continued: "It has been of enormous concern to us that, right from the start, we were aware that our very fast uptake rate just slowed dramatically, it went off a cliff in June."

Ms Donnelly said officials have been working with behavioural experts on how to best target younger people and she said while some had safety concerns, "for the majority it was all about convenience" and they preferred to attend for vaccination in groups.

She explained: "What other people said was really important, so those who would influence young people, making sure they had the right messages and they would use social media instead of traditional media, so we moved at the vaccination centres from book-ins to walk-ins.

"We'd had a no photography rule to protect the privacy of individuals and we realised that if we didn't allow the opportunities for selfies, it may not actually be seen as an important event, so we created those areas within the centres and we tried some novel means, at the SSE Arena we had an ice cream van for a period of time.

"It's been the mobile clinics that have started to have an impact, they're very slow, these are hard yards."

Ms Donnelly also provided details of the booster programme, which is due to begin in September and will include care home residents and staff, frontline healthcare staff and people aged over 50.

It is thought it will be administered at the same time as the flu vaccine, but a final decision on which vaccine will be offered has not yet been made.

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