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All four major churches open to using premises as Covid-19 vaccine centres

The Province’s major churches have all indicated an openness to the idea of using their premises as vaccination centres, administered by staff from local chemists.

The notion stems from a document which has been sent to Northern Ireland’s roughly 550 pharmacy branches, informing them of a little-noticed change in the law.

The letter, issued last week from the Department of Health’s Medicines Regulatory Group, says thanks to a new “statutory instrument” passed at Westminster local chemists are legally able to work off-site to inoculate people.

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Specifically it says retail pharmacists may now perform “administration of such vaccines away from the registered pharmacy premises”.

John Grey, 84, was among the first recipients of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine last week

This opens up the possibility of places like car parks outside a pharmacy being used as a venue to dole out vaccines, instead of forcing chemists to handle all such cases inside what are often rather small pharmacy premises.

Though they are not specifically mentioned in the document, another obvious place that pharmacists could set up such vaccine centres would be inside nearby churches.

When contacted by the News Letter, all the Province’s main denominations voiced a willingness to offer their spaces up for such a scheme.

> The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (with about 345,000 adherents in the last census) said: “Before the introduction of coronavirus restrictions many congregations provided the use of their premises for external organisations, including for example the Blood Transfusion Service.

“We’d want to encourage any Presbyterian congregation, where requested and if possible, to actively consider any approach by the relevant health authorities for use of church premises to aid the vaccination programme.”

Ultimately it is up to individual kirk sessions to give the green light for the use of premises, the church added.

> Fr Eddie McGee of the Catholic Church (738,000 adherents) told the News Letter some approaches had already been made from health trusts.

“There’s a long history of parish halls being used for all sorts of purposes, blood donation being the one that comes to mind,” he said. “The church has worked alongside the trusts and will continue to with the vaccine rollout.”

> The Church of Ireland (249,000) said it is “open to considering requests to assist with providing premises for vaccination, provided that any such use would be in line with official public health guidance”.

It added: “Any request would likely be made to an individual parish, which would have discretion regarding how or whether its premises could be used.”

> Rev Roy Cooper of the Methodist Church (about 54,000) said “we’d be happy to make out premises available – we’re open to it”.

The latest coronavirus law states that “a person shall not organise, operate, or participate in an outdoor or indoor gathering which consists of more than six persons from more than two

households”.

But there are exceptions – including “a blood donation session or a vaccination session”.

Some churches are already helping out along these lines.

For instance, Greenisland Parish Church in east Antrim is allowing its church hall to be used as a vaccine centre (albeit one administered by the local doctors’ surgery, rather than the local pharmacy).

l The News Letter’s ‘A Shot in the Arm’ campaign is pressing for NI’s network of about 550 pharmacies to be used as part of a drive to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.

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