The interval between doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines is to be reduced to a maximum of eight weeks.
This will accelerate the vaccination programme as it moves into its final phase and will ensure that people across Northern Ireland have the strongest possible protection from variants of the Covid-19 virus.
The Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “We have taken the decision to reduce the interval between vaccine doses following updated advice from the independent experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) who have considered the latest available evidence on the Delta (B1.617.2) 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. 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.
“It’s vital we do everything we can and use every resource we have to ensure we continue to keep people safe. We have implemented measures at record pace to get on top of new variants and control their spread.
“The tremendous success of our vaccination programme in Northern Ireland means that we are ahead of schedule, with more than 734,000 people already having received their second dose. We’ve come a long way on our journey through the pandemic and the quicker we can get our citizens fully vaccinated, the quicker we will be able to move back to a more normal way of life.”
For those who have not yet been vaccinated, appointments for second doses will be scheduled no more than eight weeks after the first dose. For those who have already received their first dose, scheduled appointments for second doses will remain unaffected and people should keep the date they have been given. There is no need to contact the health service as there will be no change to your arrangements.
Patricia Donnelly, head of the vaccination programme, said: “Everyone has a role to play in this effort. The vaccination programme is now open to all adults aged 18 and over and the uptake has been very positive. More than 1.8m vaccine doses have now been administered in Northern Ireland and further slots are opening up for booking today.
“I would particularly urge those aged over 40, who have not yet come forward, to now book their jab at a community pharmacy. There are more than 350 pharmacies across Northern Ireland offering vaccine appointments. It’s a convenient, straightforward process enabling people to avail of the vaccine at a convenient location in their area.
“After such a long and arduous struggle against the virus, the vaccine brings us hope and, most importantly, protection.”
New Measures to Support Childcare Providers
Education Minister, Michelle McIlveen today announced a further extension to two Covid-19 childcare support funds.
This includes a third phase of the Childcare Sustainability Fund for the period 1 April to 30 June 2021 and the Childcare Covid-19 Temporary Closure Fund from 1 April to 30 September 2021.
The Minister said: “I am pleased to announce a further extension of the financial support available to the childcare sector as we continue to emerge from the pandemic. These schemes will supplement approximately £30m of emergency funding which has already been provided to the childcare sector up to March 2021.
“The Covid-19 Childcare Sustainability Fund will provide vital financial support for eligible registered childcare providers who are continuing to incur additional costs while operating within Covid-19 guidance and a reduced demand for services during this recovery phase.
“While the closure of childcare providers remains very low, the Childcare Covid-19 Temporary Closure Fund will minimise the financial impact on childcare providers who have been forced to temporarily suspend their services due to a Covid related incident within their provision.”
The Temporary Closure Fund will also support parents, as funding is only available to those childcare providers that do not charge parents while their provision is temporarily suspended due to Covid-19 cases.
The Minister concluded: “The continuation of this funding during these final stages of recovery and easing of restrictions, recognises the vital role that childcare providers play in supporting the economy and supporting families. I want to thank the childcare sector for its continued dedication to maintaining services during these challenging times.”
The two extended Covid-19 support funds open from 18 June 2021 for applications from eligible daycare, school-aged childcare settings, childminders, crèches and playgroups. Eligible childcare providers will be able to apply for funding via Early Years – the organisation for young children website.
Belfast Pride Release Statement Regarding This Year’s Events
Belfast Pride have today released a statement regarding this year’s event. Their statement can be found below.
Belfast Pride is the main event of the year for the LGBT + community in Belfast and our biggest platform to protest for our rights and to celebrate our identities. We want to be on the streets with the rest of our
community celebrating advances on Equality issues and protesting for Trans Rights, to end Conversion Therapy and challenge hate and discrimination.
Belfast Pride will be happening this year and although things have moved on from last year, we’re sorry to say that there hasn’t been enough progress to allow the large scale events like the Belfast Pride Parade and Party in the Square to safely happen this year.
The health and wellbeing of our wonderful, diverse community matters and we’re not prepared to put people at risk. It’s great that some smaller events can happen within the restrictions and our community groups and our community venues are already busy planning.
Belfast Pride will be online and in person from Friday 23rd July – Sunday 1st August with Pride Day on Saturday 31st July.
We had been holding out in hope for the announcement of easing of restrictions on June 10111, hoping that this wou ld allow the main events of Pride Day to happen but the guidelines and the timelines leave too much uncertainty to allow progress and the detail matters with public safety.
It has been frustrating trying to find ways to make the Belfast Pride Parade and Party in the Square happen safely as the proud, diverse and dedicated team of volunteers who make up Team Pride want nothing more than to play their part in delivering Belfast Pride festival for our community.
We have been working with the PSNI, Parades Commission, Belfast City Council and other agencies to try to plan for safe events but we can’t yet safely bring 55,000 people on to the streets of Belfast for Pride Day. We need to prevent any chance of infection that could be attributed to Pride and anything that would adversely affect our community as a whole
We still need the visibility that Belfast Pride brings and we have been discussing smaller scale physical events with our community partners and supporters and we want to hear your ideas for how we can best make an impact to safely mark Pride this year. Despite the ongoing restrictions, we want a programme full of colour, diversity and Pride.
We hope that Belfast Pride will be back in full next year – we all deserve the biggest, most diverse and best Pride yet but we can still bring the Pride rainbow to Belfast this year.