A drive to increase Northern Ireland’s vaccine take-up rate could reduce hospital admissions by as much as 50% this summer.
That’s the message from public health officials, as mobile walk-in vaccination clinics are rolled out across NI.
In addition to the mobile walk-in clinics, a number of NI’s regional vaccination centres will now be offering walk-ins every day for people who have not booked a first dose appointment.
A surge in Covid-19 cases is expected to peak by late summer in Northern Ireland. Infection numbers have been climbing in recent weeks, reflecting the spread of the now dominant Delta variant.
But a large proportion of the population are benefiting from the protection provided by vaccination.
A concerted drive is ongoing to boost take-up rates even further. An 85% take-up for first doses is in reach by the end of July. However, achieving an even higher rate of 90% would make a decisive difference, in terms of preventing serious illness and hospitalisations.
Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young explained: “Modelling indicates that if we could get to 90% first dose take-up by the end of July, that could reduce hospital admissions by half when the peak comes. This assumes that everyone getting the first dose goes on to get their second dose, and the fuller protection it provides.
“It would mean hundreds fewer people in hospital, hundreds fewer suffering serious and potentially life-threatening illness. It would also significantly ease potential pressures on our health service.”
Professor Young added: “It should be stressed again that modelling is not the same as predicting. There are other factors to consider, including the extent to which we all keep adhering to public health advice. If more people start acting in a way that helps spread the virus, then the peak will likely be more severe.
“The modelling does provide us with an insight into the tangible benefits of further increasing vaccine take-up rate. There is a race between vaccination and the variant. Every jab counts.”
Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “Our vaccination programme has been very successful and has saved many lives. An 85% take-up rate would itself be a remarkable achievement. However, the spread of the Delta variant means we are unable to even think about the mission being accomplished. We must push on.
“We are into the hard yards in the race against the variant. Vaccination rates have slowed somewhat in recent weeks, which is not surprising given the extent of the population already reached. Every effort will continue to be made to get more people jabbed.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The message is clear – the time to get your jab is now. Do it for yourself and to protect the people close to you. Do it to protect our health service. And do it to help us all get back to normality – mixing with friends, nights out, holidays and all the other things we often took for granted before the pandemic struck.”
Three centres – SSE Arena, Belfast; Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena; and South Lake Leisure Centre, Craigavon – are offering first dose walk-ins every day from tomorrow (Monday). The Foyle Arena will be facilitating walk-ins every day from this Tuesday.
Walk-in first jabs will also be available at Omagh Leisure Centre on July 5, 6 and 7 and at Lakeland Forum, Fermanagh on July 8.
All NI’s regional vaccination centres continue to offer vaccination appointment bookings for first doses.
“Mobile walk-in clinics will also continue to be held at different locations across Northern Ireland, with a number planned for this week,” the Minister added.
“It’s recognised that walk-in facilities suit some people better. However, if you can book at a vaccination centre, it does bring advantages – a set time and fast track access.
“The choice is yours – the main thing is that you get your jab.”
Appointments for first Pfizer dose vaccines at the regional vaccination centres are open to anyone aged 18 and over.
To book online go to: covid-19.hscni.net/get-vaccinated
Appointments can also be made using the telephone service 0300 200 7813.