Coronavirus vaccine arrives in Northern Ireland

Stocks of coronavirus vaccine have arrived in Northern Ireland ahead of the rollout of the jabs next week, the Health Minister has confirmed.

The initial batch of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was transported overnight , arriving via Dublin from Holyhead.

It has been taken to a central storage facility, the location of which is not being disclosed.

The initial consignment of almost 25,000 doses paves the way for vaccinations to commence from early next week, starting with vaccinator teams.

It's believed the first recipient here will get the jab at 8am on Tuesday morning at a mass vaccination centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital. After that the 800-plus team of vaccinators will then receive the jabs.

Healthcare workers across the region will be able to get the vaccine through the remainder of December at seven centres spread across the region.

Two of the facilities are located on hospital grounds - at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald and Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital - and the rest in leisure centres.

The centres will operate 12 hours a day and seven days a week in an effort to vaccinate 100,000 healthcare and care home staff. Care home residents and people aged over 80 are also in the first priority vaccination group.

Health officials continue to examine ways to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in care homes in Northern Ireland.

The size of batches and the extremely low temperature at which it must be stored poses logistical challenges with using the vaccine outside the major centres.

The majority of care home residents may ultimately receive another brand of vaccine, with health chiefs hopeful that regulatory approval for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could be only a matter of days away.

That product does not come with the same storage and batch size constraints.

  • Interview with Patricia Donnelly, Head of Northern Ireland's vaccination programme:

The deaths of another six people with Covid-19 were announced by the Department of Health on Friday, along with 449 new confirmed cases of the virus.

It brings the department's recorded death total to 1032.