By Rebecca Black, PA
Northern Ireland’s First Minister has said she would rather see people vaccinated than doses potentially wasted.
Arlene Foster was speaking following reports of a leaked email which appeared to offer some staff in the South Eastern Health Trust the opportunity to register family members for early access to the jab.
The email indicated that over-65s, known to staff, could book in at its vaccine centre before the official announcement.
The trust said it started a local trawl in advance of the online public booking system going live to fill slots and ensure they would not “lose hundreds of precious vaccine slots”.
The Department of Health announced on Tuesday evening that those aged 65-69 could register for the vaccine.
Mrs Foster said: “The vaccination centres are using the Pfizer vaccine, and it is very restrictive in how and when it can be used. It has to be kept at very cold temperatures and then used quite quickly.
“As I understand it from looking into this, this is to deal with the very first appointment because we do not want to risk losing this vaccine.
“We are very proud of the fact that our wastage in terms of vaccination is about 0.4%, I think that is very very good and I’d much rather see people vaccinated than waste the vaccine.”
The First Minister told the BBC: “I think wasting the vaccine would be absolutely the wrong message to send to people.”
Meanwhile, the Stormont Executive is set to meet on Thursday with Education Minister Peter Weir expected to bring a paper around school closures.
Schools have been closed since stopping for the Christmas break due to a fresh raft of lockdown restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
It was announced on Wednesday that a further 16 people have died after testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the toll in Northern Ireland to 1,779.
The Department of Health also confirmed another 527 positive cases of the virus.
There are now 775 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, including 68 in intensive care.