Health Minister Robin Swann has said that the process of standing down Northern Ireland’s mass vaccination centres will begin next month.
Mr Swann said the current scale of the vaccination programme “cannot continue indefinitely” and urged people to come forward sooner, rather than later.
Winding down the current level of vaccinations will allow staff to return to other parts of the health service.
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.
“Getting your jab will never be easier or more accessible than it is right now. All our regional vaccination centres are offering walk-in jabs without the need for appointment. And mobile vaccination teams are visiting local towns to provide walk-in clinics.”
The minister continued: “In the coming weeks, we will inevitably have to stand down aspects of the current programme.
We will have to start standing down the mass vaccination centres in August, with first doses there ending on July 31Robin Swann
“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.
“Pharmacists will continue to play an essential role – including offering Moderna first and second doses from the end of July.
“However, the logistical requirements of Moderna mean the number of participating pharmacies will be more limited.”
Mr Swann concluded: “It is simply not possible to maintain a mass vaccination programme of this nature as a permanent feature of our health service. That is an unavoidable fact.
“I am not saying this to provoke alarm or concern. If you are worried about missing out on your jab, don’t be.
“The vaccination centres are waiting for you to walk in the door. They have first and second doses ready for you now. No appointment is required.
“Similarly, the programme of mobile vaccination clinics continues around the province and they are also offering walk-ins.
“Don’t be left behind – don’t miss out on the protection and opportunities that being double jabbed brings.”