Care workers can receive Covid-19 vaccine this week

The lives of healthcare workers are being put at risk because of delays in receiving their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, according to the chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland.

Healthcare workers have to wait up to 12 weeks before receiving their second dose, rather than the three weeks recommended by the manufacturer.

Dr Tom Black claims hundreds of slots remain empty at vaccination centres across NI.

"Today, when some of those doctors have turned up for their second vaccine they've been turned away, even though we know those clinics have hundreds of spare spaces," he said.

"And we're very worried, that health care workers will come to harm, through ill-health or death, because their immunity is sub-optimal over the next few months, until they get the next vaccine."

The Health Department has said the rescheduling of second doses is in line with the guidance of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

It says the move will mean that more health and social care workers and more vulnerable citizens will get the protection of the first dose more quickly.

Meanwhile it has been announced that domiciliary care workers and independent sector staff in Northern Ireland can now receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

They will be able to book an appointment from Monday, as the phased roll-out of the vaccination programme for health workers continues.

Chief Social Worker Sean Holland said: “Domiciliary care workers and staff employed by independent care providers will be able to receive the vaccine through the trust vaccination centres.

"I would encourage colleagues in this group to avail of the vaccine as soon as they can and book through the digital booking platform."

He added: “I am immensely grateful to all who work in this sector for your dedication. Throughout the pandemic you have shown bravery, skill and commitment.

"Those in receipt of homecare are often amongst the most vulnerable in our communities and you have been there for them throughout this pandemic.”

The Health Department said dental, pharmacy and optometry teams will be called forward from next Monday.

It said the staff programme runs alongside the wider population vaccination programme, which began in GP practices this week - with those aged 80 and over first to be vaccinated.

As of Friday, the department said 74,000 vaccinations have been administered here, including 65,000 first doses and 9,000 second doses.

The department said 166 care homes have had their second dose.