The rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is expected to start in Northern Ireland next week.
Approval of the jab was announced by UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday morning.
It has been given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Delighted with Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine progress. The world class strength & brilliance of UK scientists means our wider vaccination programme should start across Northern Ireland next week.— Arlene Foster #WeWillMeetAgain (@DUPleader) December 30, 2020
80% of care homes have already received their first dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
It came on a day when more than 2,000 new cases of the virus were announced.
Six further deaths and 2,143 positive cases were notified on Wednesday.
The number of new infections represents the highest daily number in the pandemic in the region.
Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride has urged anyone with plans to meet up with friends for New Year’s Eve to cancel them and stay at home.
“Those are extremely troubling numbers … I am very concerned about what the next couple of weeks will look like,” he told the BBC.
Earlier Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann indicated that the rollout of this vaccine will start in Northern Ireland next week.
First Minister Arlene Foster tweeted her delight at the move.
“The world class strength & brilliance of UK scientists means our wider vaccination programme should start across Northern Ireland next week,” she tweeted.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also tweeted: “Good news this morning as the @UniofOxford/ @AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine has been authorised for use by the MRHA, and we expect deployment to start by next week.”
Mr Swann said the announcement is “extremely welcome news” but cautioned that the rollout will take time.
“The vaccine programme will transform the situation but that will take time,” he said.
“Between now and then, we need another big push to get through these next few months. We can all play our part in supporting the health service and in protecting each other from Covid-19.
“Please follow the public health advice to stop it spreading and please strictly abide by the current lockdown rules.”
Dr McBride said the development will make the vaccination programme more achievable.
“To now have a second vaccine authorised in the UK a matter of weeks after the first is a credit to all who contributed,” he said.
“I commend our scientists and pharmaceutical company partners, the MHRA and, most importantly, every single person who contributed to the clinical trials, including those from Northern Ireland.
“This is a vaccine that we can take more readily to people.
“It will make the task of vaccinating those most at risk and then the entire population over 50 years much more achievable.”
Patricia Donnelly, head of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Northern Ireland, added: “The vaccination programme in Northern Ireland has already made an excellent start by focusing on the number one priority group as recommended by JCVI.
“The characteristics of this vaccine will ensure that we can now build on that progress and more rapidly scale-up the vaccination programme rollout, staying in line with the JCVI priority recommendations.”
"A significant achievement for Northern Ireland."— Department of Health (@healthdpt) December 29, 2020
The Health Minister has praised the work of the COVID-19 vaccination teams as they begin administering the second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to care home residents and health workers. https://t.co/rECwzhEYhY pic.twitter.com/ed6YnanioE
Some 33,683 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been administered in the region.
This includes 8,940 care home residents, 10,484 care home staff and 14,259 frontline health staff.
Mr Swann said 80% of all care homes in Northern Ireland have been reached.
“33,683 vaccinations in a short space of time is a significant achievement for Northern Ireland,” he said.
“We are continuing to lead the way in delivering vaccine to our most vulnerable and our frontline workers, and I sincerely thank all those involved in making this possible, from the frontline vaccinators to the backroom pharmacy teams and those involved in storage and distribution who have worked incredibly hard to make sure the vaccine can be delivered to those who need it the most.”