Larger care homes in Northern Ireland may receive a vaccine before the end of the month

Some of the larger care homes in Northern Ireland may receive a vaccine later this month following the approval of the Pfzier vaccine.

It's hoped residents in smaller nursing homes may also receive a vaccine from mobile units in January.

The size of batches and the extremely low temperature which it must be stored at poses transport difficulties.

Logistical experts have been in discussions with service providers in a bid to overcome the obstacles.

A Stormont Department of Health statement said: "The Department of Health is working hard to explore all options, liaising with other jurisdictions and is determined to get vaccines to care homes as soon as feasibly possible.

"The logistical challenges linked to the Pfizer vaccine are well documented but we are continuing to explore all avenues within the conditions set out by the regulating body MHRA."

Pauline Shepherd, chief executive of Independent Health and Care Providers, said she had been in recent discussions on the issue.

She added: "They seem to be finding a way to make Pfizer more viable for distribution to care homes."

She envisaged they would be more likely to find a solution for larger care homes.

The jabs will initially be stored in packs of 997 doses in specialist freezers before onward distribution. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at a temperature of -70C.

The pack size means it is most suited to settings in which people, like health care staff, can travel to large mass centres to receive the doses.

Ms Shepherd added: "They are trying to find ways around splitting the package in some way, making sure that if the package is split it is transported in a way that will not diminish the value of it."

Stormont deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill said care homes were her number one priority.

She added: "We expect to have a second vaccine approved, hopefully before the end of they year.

"That is the one that can be deployed into care homes straight away, so it is a matter of weeks."

The first vaccines are expected to be given to health workers in Northern Ireland next week.