NI Health Minister says approval of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine marks "hugely significant day"

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By Q Radio News

The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine for use. 

It has been given the go-ahead by the health regulator MHRA and will become available from next week.

Studies have shown the jab is 95% effective and works in all age groups.

The government has secured 40 million doses of the vaccine and patients need two doses.

Health Minister Robin Swann tweeted saying the approval of the vaccine marks a "hugely significant day". 

He added the Department of Health has plans and preparations in place for the roll out of the jab.

Mr Swann said the region would receive 25,000 jabs as part of the initial batch arriving in the UK.

Healthcare workers are likely to receive the first in Northern Ireland.

“We would hope to have a supply of vaccine next week, which could actually see that date come forward by a few days,” said Mr Swann.

“We’ll be working through the exact logistics of the dispatch of the vaccine from Belgium across to the UK and how we get that distributed through your system.”

The minister urged caution and stressed that compliance with Covid-19 regulations is still vital.

“It’s the beginning of the end, it’s not the end,” he said.

“It will be weeks and it’ll be well into next year before we’re looking to that larger mass vaccination programme across the population of Northern Ireland.

“So, as I say, this is the beginning of them.

“We’re not there yet.

It is understood Northern Ireland will receive 1.5 million doses of the vaccination. 

Health experts here believe around 75 per cent of Northern Ireland's population will avail of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Head of Stormont's Covid-19 jab programme Patricia Donnelly says she expects there to be a higher uptake amongst the most vulnerable.

The positive news does come with a warning however.

Whilst health chiefs say the vaccine will be significant in the fight against COVID-19, it's been acknowledged that it won't completely defeat the virus.

Professor Ian Young, the Chief Scientific Advisor in Northern Ireland says he hopes the virus will only be a minor problem in the future but that we'll have to learn to live with it.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the vaccine approval was an early “Christmas present”:

“This does give us the road back to normality and I think everybody has been waiting for that,” she said.

“I’m incredibly proud today that the United Kingdom has been able to do this and that we will all benefit from this vaccine coming.”

And Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the approval marked a “turning point”:

“I think this is the news that people have been waiting for now for the best of 10 months when we’ve all been challenged to the limits, so I think this is a very positive story,” she said.

“This is a turning point in our Covid battle, and I think people should feel that, and they’re right to feel it because it has been such a challenging time.”

Dr Tom Black, Chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, says the priority will be to get the most vulnerable in society vaccinated first:

Speaking to Sky News this morning, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the roll out is fantastic "fantastic news". 

He added: "The MHRA - the fiercely independent regulator - has clinically authorised the vaccine for roll-out.

"The NHS stands ready to make that happen so from early next week we will start the programme of vaccinating people against COVID-19 here in this country.

"As we know from earlier announcements, this vaccine is effective, the MHRA have approved it as clinically safe and we have a vaccine, so it's very good news."

He also announced the news in a tweet, posting: "Help is on the way."

Mr Hancock also told Sky News there would be "three modes of delivery" of the vaccine.

"The first is hospitals themselves, which of course we've got facilities like this," he said.

"50 hospitals across the country are already set up and waiting to receive the vaccine as soon as it's approved, so that can now happen.

"Also vaccination centres, which will be big centres where people can go to get vaccinated. They are being set up now."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "The government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for use.

"This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness."

An effective vaccine is seen as the main weapon in fighting the pandemic, which has claimed more than 1.4 million lives worldwide.

Pfizer and BioNTech reported final trial results on 18 November that showed its vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19, with no major safety concerns.


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