Covid booster - not everyone might get it and it could be rolled out with flu-jab

Combining the rollout of Covid-19 booster jabs with the annual flu vaccine programme would reduce the burden on Northern Ireland’s health system, MLAs have been told.

Patricia Donnelly the head of Northern Ireland’s vaccination programme, said she hoped the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) would allow appointments to be combined in the autumn.

She said almost 500,000 people receive flu vaccines in Northern Ireland each year.

Giving evidence to the Assembly’s health committee, Ms Donnelly said Northern Ireland was set to complete the vaccination of the adult population by the end of August.

She said the decision to offer the under-30 age cohort a vaccine other than AstraZeneca was set to slow the rollout, which she said has, up to this point, been significantly ahead of the original schedule.

Ms Donnelly said a revised timeline of delivering all first doses to the adult population by the end of June had now been pushed back to potentially the end of July.

On the anticipated autumn rollout of single-dose vaccine boosters, Ms Donnelly told committee members: “We hope that they (JCVI) will take into consideration the winter flu programme which is delivered by GPs, they deliver 480,000 vaccinations every year almost unseen and it has not disrupted their normal practices.

“So we would hope that the JCVI will come forward with a recommendation that will allow us to combine those, so that it is much more effective and GPs would be keen on that.”

Ms Donnelly said she anticipated that the boosters would be primarily delivered by GPs and community pharmacies, rather than large-scale vaccination centres.

She said the health authorities in Northern Ireland were still awaiting JCVI guidance on who would require boosters.

Ms Donnelly said they could potentially be recommended for all adults or instead certain age groups.

She raised the possibility that the eligibility would mirror the cohort who currently receive the flu vaccine each year.

“We await final advice from JCVI about who to vaccinate,” she said.

“So by July we hope that we will have that advice, because it comes all too quickly that they’re asking us to begin in the autumn again.”

Ms Donnelly told the committee that around 1.415 million doses have been administered in Northern Ireland so far.

Of those, around 956,500 are first doses and almost 460,000 are second doses.

Ms Donnelly said 65% of the adult population had now received a jab.