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Young People Aged 12 to 15 to be Offered Covid-19 Vaccine

People aged 12-15 in Northern Ireland will be offered a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine shortly.

This move follows the unanimous advice to ministers from the four UK Chief Medical Officers.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I have carefully considered the advice provided by the four UK Chief Medical Officers and have accepted their recommendation to expand the vaccination programme to all those aged 12-15. This move will help protect young people from catching COVID-19 and is expected to prevent disruption in schools by reducing transmission.”

In line with the recommendation of the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the government sought the views of the four UK CMOs on the wider issues that are relevant to the health of children.  All those aged 12 to 15 in Northern Ireland will now be offered one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and parental consent will be sought prior to vaccination. For those who are part of an ‘at risk’ group, they will receive two doses, eight weeks apart, in line with JCVI advice.

The government has accepted the advice of the four UK CMOs and the HSC is preparing to deliver the programme which is expected to be a schools-based vaccination programme, which is the successful model used for vaccinations including for HPV and the annual flu programme. They will be supported by GPs where necessary. Consent forms for vaccination will begin to be distributed via schools shortly.

Most school-aged children aged 12 to 15 are expected to will primarily receive their COVID-19 vaccination in their school with alternative provision for those who are home schooled or in secure services.

The Minister concluded: “I thank the UK Chief Medical Officers for their expert advice. Our healthcare system stands ready to extend the vaccination programme to this group with the same dedication and urgency that they have delivered all other parts of the vaccination programme.”

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Still fighting for Equality: 40 Years on From Decriminalisation

Today marks the 40th anniversary of court decision of Dudgeon v the United Kingdom. This significant decision paved the way to the UK Parliament decriminalising sexual acts between men in 1982 and was the first time that a complaint about sexual orientation discrimination reached the ECHR. This decision changed the lives for many LGBTQIA+ people in Northern Ireland and it is important that we mark this event. 

Speaking on the anniversary Aisling Twomey, Policy and Advocacy Manager with The Rainbow Project said “We owe a lot to our LGBTQIA+ pioneers such as Jeff and others, who when campaigning for decriminalisation (of homosexuality) were routinely rounded up, questioned and had their homes raided.”

“While Northern Ireland has changed significantly within the last 40 years, there are still many inequalities experienced by LGBTQIA+ people and a lack of visibility of LGBTQIA+ people in public life. LGBTQIA+ People are still afraid to hold their loved one’s hand in public and feel they need to change their behaviour in public to avoid possibly being targeted for their sexual orientation and gender identity. Fears of violence, intimidation and harassment remain a reality for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual people across Northern Ireland and beyond.”

“Despite significant barriers to equality in NI, we must recognise the substantial change that has been achieved. Through effective campaigning and non-stop advocacy by the LGBTQIA+ community we have seen changes to adoption regulations in 2013, the introduction of the disregard process for historical convictions in 2016, reforms to the blood ban in 2017 & 2020 and the introduction of Equal Marriage in 2020.”

John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project said “LGBTQIA+ people are still facing discrimination in their workplaces. They still face discrimination when accessing education, health and social care and many public services. Many people still facing rejection or hostility from their family, when they come out as LGBTQIA+ and our community remains invisible to too many policy makers and service providers.”

“Most alarming has been the ongoing attacks across social and wider media on our trans and non-binary community. We see how the same twisted messages which were used to condemn gay people and incite fear of our community are being used to target trans/non-binary people, questioning their existence and ignoring their lived experiences. We have seen an 16% increase in transphobic Hate crime across the UK and a media that is obsessed with a negative portrayal of trans and non-binary people.”

“Trans and Non-Binary people in Northern Ireland are being denied the right to access healthcare, to have a simple process to the right to legally change their name and gender from those that were assigned to them at birth. The UK government have not taken the final decisions following their consultation on how to reform the Gender Recognition Act and have rolled back on support on proposed reforms such as Self-ID.”

“While today, we reflect on the 40th Anniversary of a decision that changed the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in Northern Ireland for the better. We know there is much still to do before we can say there is full equality. We will continue the fight for equality and press policy- and decision-makers at all levels to do what they can to promote full inclusion and respect for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people in Northern Ireland.”

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Long Listens to Experiences of People Affected by Domestic Abuse

“I will do all that I can to support and continue to deliver for those affected by domestic abuse.” That was the message from Justice Minster Naomi Long.

Speaking after hearing directly from people affected by domestic abuse, as well as specialists working in this field from Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid, Naomi Long said: “Tackling domestic abuse is extremely important to me and has been a priority throughout my time as Justice Minster. 

“As part of my work I have been keen to hear about the experiences of those most affected.  Engagement with experts in this field, such as the staff from Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid, who continue to undertake extremely important work, on the ground, in delivering help and support to those in need is also critical.

“I want to thank those that I heard from today, for taking the time to tell me about their experience, and to acknowledge the courage that they have shown including through seeking justice.  I listened to their views on tackling domestic abuse, reflecting on their own personal experiences, which can further inform and make a difference to the important work we’re taking forward with a range of voluntary sector partners.

“I want to make it clear that as Justice Minister I will do all that I can to deliver for those affected by domestic abuse, whether male, female or LGBTQIA+ given that domestic abuse affects all.  This includes the new domestic abuse offence to be introduced next year, as well as associated training and awareness raising on this.  In addition, I am bringing forward Protection from Stalking legislation as well as a Justice Bill and work on the Gillen Review to tackle related sexual abuse issues.”

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