Updated NI vaccination programme – key questions answered

I’m aged over 40 and I haven’t booked my jab yet. Where do I go?

You can book your AZ vaccine appointment online at one of the community pharmacies across Northern Ireland or at the Vaccination Centre at the SSE Arena.

Why can’t over 40s choose not to receive the AZ vaccine?

As there are currently more limited supplies of the Pfizer vaccine it will now be necessary to reserve all of the current Pfizer supplies to those aged under 40 years of age, in line with updated JCVI advice.

We have been striving throughout this programme to get as many people protected from COVID-19 as quickly as possible, in with MHRA and JCVI guidelines.

Offering everyone a choice of which vaccine to take would have significantly delayed the programme – leaving more people unprotected for longer, with potentially serious consequences in terms of rates of infection, serious ill health and even death.

I’m 37 and I’m already booked in for my first jab. Does this change anything?

No. Your appointment will be honoured. Turn up as planned for your jab. Those booked at any of the regional vaccination centres will receive the Pfizer vaccine.  Those booked at a community pharmacy will still be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine.

I’ve already got my first Astra Zeneca vaccine dose. Do I do anything different?

No. Proceed with your second dose and turn up to your scheduled appointment.  The second dose offers you longer and stronger protection from the virus. The only exception will be for the very small number of cases who have had an extreme adverse reaction to the first dose.

I’m 32 and due to get my second Astra Zeneca dose. Should I be worried?

The JCVI’s updated advice relates to first doses of AZ for the under 40 age group – following a very small number of extreme reactions to the first dose. The clear advice is to get your second dose as planned to ensure you get longer and stronger protection from the virus. The only exception will be for the very small number of cases who have had an extreme adverse reaction to the first dose.

Will this new JCVI advice delay NI’s vaccination programme?

The progress of the vaccination drive has always been dependent on availability of supplies.

Pfizer supplies remain steady but limited, so our progress with the 30-39 age group will be limited for the next few weeks. Likewise, those under 30 will have to wait a few weeks before being offered appointments for their first dose.

The changed advice will free up more Astra Zeneca supplies, which will help accelerate the provision of second doses.

I’m 32 and I’d rather get an Astra Zeneca vaccine now than wait weeks for a Pfizer jab. Can I make that choice?

Yes, those in their 30’s can still make the informed decision to book in for Astra Zeneca vaccination at community pharmacies or at the vaccination centre at the SSE Arena.

Why does Northern Ireland have to follow JCVI advice?

The independent expert advice clinical advice of the JCVI has played a major role in the success to date of our vaccination programme. Following its prioritisation programme enabled us to first protect those most at risk from the virus. Its advice on prioritising first doses – and spacing out second doses – has meant many more people here have been protected more quickly.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines unsafe?

No.

There have been over 4.4 million Covid-19 infections and more than 127,000 deaths in the UK to date.

Since the start of the vaccination programme in December 2020, over 34 million people have now received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, which Public Health England (PHE) estimates has prevented at least 10,000 deaths.

In Northern Ireland over 1.4m doses have been administered and around 770,000 of these have been AstraZeneca doses.

Analysis of surveillance data in the UK demonstrates that vaccination is highly effective and substantially reduces the risk of infection and severe COVID-19 disease and reduces onward transmission.

Does this latest advice mean some people may not be vaccinated?

No - there will be enough vaccine for everyone to receive two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

We will have to carefully manage our supplies to ensure we can implement the latest JCVI advice and ensure those under 40 can access the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.  There will not be enough Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in NI to rapidly vaccinate everyone aged under 40 years of age and therefore this will mean that the vaccination rate will be slowed down and we are unlikely to finish first doses before the end of July.

What about those who have already received the AZ vaccine?

The expert recommendation of the MHRA is that the AstraZeneca vaccine is a very effective and safe vaccine.  There have been a small number of reports of extremely rare adverse events of concurrent blood clots and low platelet count following vaccination with the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.  Anyone who thinks they are experiencing unexpected symptoms after receiving the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should seek medical help.

Why has the JCVI advice changed?

The available data suggest there is a slightly higher incidence (number of cases per million doses of vaccine given) reported in the younger compared to older adult age groups. There are currently no known risk factors for this extremely rare condition, which appears to be an idiosyncratic reaction on first exposure to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. JCVI had previously advised that as a precaution it was preferable that those under the age of 30 should receive an alternative vaccine to the AstraZeneca vaccine. JCVI’s latest advice is based on the available data on the current epidemiology, benefit-risk profile by age, modelling predictions on future disease trends and the current forecast on vaccine supply.

The chances of a younger person becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 get smaller as infection rates increasingly come under control in the UK.

Given the extremely rare risk of adverse events associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine , the current control of COVID-19 in the UK, model predictions of the potential scale and timing of a future wave, and the availability of alternative COVID-19 vaccines in the UK, JCVI agreed its advice should be updated and now advises in addition to those aged under 30, unvaccinated adults aged 30 - 39 years who are not in a clinical priority group at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease, should be preferentially offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, where possible and only where no substantial delay or barrier in access to vaccination would arise.

What does this mean for the Northern Ireland vaccination programme?

We intend to follow the latest JCVI advice and this will mean that due to the current more limited supplies of the Pfizer vaccine we will have to restrict its use to those currently aged 30-39 and then for those aged 18-29 years of age.  Anyone aged 40 years and over who remains unvaccinated will be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine, unless there are medical reasons why they should receive an alternative vaccine.  In reality this will mean that all Trust vaccination centres will only be available for those aged under 40 years of age.  Those aged 40 years and over will still be able to access a COVID-19 vaccine via the SSE Arena or their local community pharmacy.  For those aged 50 years and over they will also be able to access a vaccine via their own GP.

How long will 18-29 year olds have to wait?

We hope to open the booking platform to those aged 18-29 in the near future.  Due to more limited current supplies of the Pfizer vaccine however it will probably be late July before everyone has been able to receive their first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

When will the vaccination programme be completed?

Based on the vaccine supply schedule we expect all first doses to be completed by July and then second doses by August/ mid-September. It may be possible to shorten the interval between 1st and 2nd doses for the last cohort and therefore the programme may be completed in August.

Can I still have the AZ vaccine if I want?

Yes – anyone can still make an informed decision and take up the opportunity to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine via a community pharmacy or SSE Arena if that is what they prefer or if they decide they would rather not wait to receive an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine. The MHRA has not changed its advice or approval for the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in anyone aged 18 years and over.

What does this mean for GPs and Community Pharmacies?

GPs and Community Pharmacies will still play a vital role in administering COVID-19 vaccines.  They will continue to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to those who request it.

What about those who cannot travel to a Vaccination centre?

We would expect that the vast majority of individuals who are housebound etc to have already been vaccinated as part of phase 1 of the vaccination programme. However, due to its storage and transport requirements, the AstraZeneca vaccine is much more easily delivered in some settings, and in these settings is the only vaccine it is practical to offer. In such circumstances JCVI advises that the benefits of receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, and individuals in this event should be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine.  The AstraZeneca vaccine will be available in 349 community pharmacies spread across Northern Ireland.

I have a clotting disorder. Can I get the vaccine?

Yes. Individuals with past clotting episodes and those diagnosed with thrombophilia, whether or not they are on long term anti-coagulation, remain at risk of COVID-19 disease. There is no evidence that those with a prior history of blood clots or known risk factors for blood clots are more at risk of developing the immune-mediated condition of clots in combination with thrombocytopaenia (low platelets) after the AstraZeneca vaccine.

For most of these individuals, the risk of recurrent blood clots due to COVID-19 infection remains far greater than the risk of this syndrome. Therefore individuals with such a history should be vaccinated with any of the available vaccines (provided they are not otherwise contra-indicated).The same consideration applies to those who experience common clotting episodes after the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine but without concomitant thrombocytopaenia (low platelets).

Back to top