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.”