Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has said it is “thanks in no small measure” to the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine that Northern Ireland is now in a much better position.
The numbers of coronavirus-related deaths and new positive cases have fallen considerable from the start of the year, amid lockdown restrictions and the ongoing roll-out of vaccinations.
However, people under 30 will now be offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab while experts undertake further investigations into potential links with rare blood clots.
There have been 79 cases and 19 deaths out of around 20 million of the jabs administered across the UK and the EU.
That equates to almost four cases in every one million doses, and an average of one death per million vaccines.
It is thanks in no small measure to the AstraZeneca vaccine that Northern Ireland is in a much better position than it was at the start of the year. It will continue to have a vital role in saving lives, reducing hospitalisations and helping us move out of lockdown.
“I would strongly encourage everyone in Northern Ireland to come forward for their Covid-19 vaccination when their turn comes,” Dr McBride said.
“The expert, independent advice is clear – the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh any potential risk for the vast majority of adults.
“The potential risk from this rare blood clotting condition is extremely low – and a definite link to vaccination has not yet been established.”
Dr McBride added: “The risk/benefit calculation is different for those under 30, due to the reduced threat posed to this age group by Covid and the availability of other vaccines.
“For the rest of us, it is essential to understand that Covid-19 represents a much greater risk.
“Covid-19 has claimed many lives in Northern Ireland and left many others with debilitating long-term health issues.
“It is also the case that Covid infection itself brings an increased risk of blood clots.”
Dr McBride has himself received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“I am looking forward to receiving my second AZ jab when my turn comes,” he added.
“We all want to live without a constant dread of Covid and to get our old lives back. Vaccination has an essential role in ensuring we have a better and safer summer.”
I'm under 30 - what jab will I be given if I can't have AstraZeneca?
Pfizer/BioNTech: still being rolled out and the UK has ordered 40 million doses in total – enough to fully vaccinate nearly one-third of the population
Moderna: only other jab to be cleared for use in the UK, with 17 million doses ordered in all - already being used in Scotland and Wales and expected to be rolled out in England in the third week of April
Novavax: 60 million doses ordered and approval could be confirmed in April - the jab is being manufactured in Barnard Castle
Johnson & Johnson: 30 million doses ordered and could be crucial in speeding up the rollout because it only requires one injection - has been approved for use in the US, but awaits the green light in the UK
Valneva: another 60 million doses expected in the UK, and the jab is to be made in Livingston, Scotland - early results have been encouraging as the vaccine begins phase 3 trials, which is the final stage
I'm in my early 30s, should I still accept the jab when I'm offered it?
Anyone who is aged in their early 30s and in good health should still get the coronavirus jab as "the balance is in favour of being vaccinated because of the risks of Covid-19 and the protections the vaccine offers," Professor Wei Shen, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations (JCVI), said at a briefing on Wednesday.
Anyone with concerns should look at the available data and information and "make their own decision about what they want to do about vaccination", he added.
I'm under 30 and I've already had the AstraZeneca jab - shall I have the second dose?
All 79 cases of the rare blood clotting syndrome were detected between four and 28 days after the first dose of the jab. Therefore, if you've had your first dose and not had any serious side effects, it's extremely unlikely you'll develop it after receiving your second dose.
How do I know if I have a blood clot?
Symptoms include a severe headache, which is tricky because many people do report getting a headache after a jab.
But if the headache persists for more than four days and it is severe, then that could be a symptom.
Swelling in the legs is another one, difficulty breathing and chest pains as well. Pin pricks on the surface of the skin – a kind of bruising – that’s not near the part of your arm where you had your injection has also been listed as another symptom.
Cases of blood clots are extremely rare (just four in every million), but if you do have any concerns after your injection, you should consult your GP.
If you have a history of blood clots, then the advice is not to take the vaccine, but if you have already had the first dose, then you should check with a specialist first.