The time between receiving first and second doses of coronavirus vaccines in Northern Ireland is to be reduced from roughly three months to eight weeks, the Department of Health has announced.
The decision affects both the Offord/AstraZeneca and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines.
Currently, people have to wait between 10 and 12 weeks to receive their second jab, but it is hoped the reduced timeframe will accelerate the vaccination programme as it moves into its final phase.
According to Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride, the Department of Health made the decision following the latest evidence on the Delta variant, which was first identified in India.
“They have recommended reducing the dosing interval to help protect the community from the increasing prevalence of this variant and others that may arise,” he said.
“It’s vital that we move as quickly as possible, with the supplies of vaccine that we have available, to ensure that the maximum number of people receive both doses so that they have fuller and longer lasting protection against the virus.”
More than 734,000 people in Northern Ireland have already received their second dose of a vaccine.
The reduced timeframe will be put in place when arranging future appointments for second doses for those who have not yet received their first dose.
Those who have already received their first dose and have appointments scheduled for their second should keep the date they have been given – no changes will be made to their arrangements and they do not need to contact the health service.
Concerns over the highly transmissible Delta strain have been part of the latest formal review of Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland.
Executive ministers met to discuss the final stage in the pathway out of lockdown, with meeting indoors, travel, the return of live music, testing, and more all issues on the table.
Thursday's Executive meeting was also Arlene Foster's last as First Minister.
The date 21 June has been agreed for more restrictions to be lifted, subject to ratification.
The latest figures show there have been no further coronavirus-related deaths in Northern Ireland in the last 24-hour reporting period and 109 new positive cases, out of 2,562 individuals tested.
In the last seven days, there have been 604 positive cases.
According to the Department of Health, there are currently 19 people with Covid-19 being treated in hospitals in Northern Ireland – none of them are in intensive care or on ventilators.
A total of 111 probable and confirmed cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus have been detected across Northern Ireland, according to the Public Health Agency.
The figure comes as the agency concludes its enhanced testing work in the Kilkeel area of Co Down.
More than 2,100 residents have been tested amid concerns around the number of cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant, first detected in India and now thought to account for over 90% of Covid-19 cases in the UK.