Covid: Queues form at Belfast vaccination centres as Big Jab Weekend gets under way

Queues for Covid-19 vaccines at the vaccine centre in the SSE Arena in Belfast.
Queues for Covid-19 vaccines at the vaccine centre in the SSE Arena in Belfast.

More than 100 people were at the SSE Arena in Belfast before the doors opened on Saturday and the Western Health Trust reported queues at three centres in its area.

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A major drive to boost Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccination rates has begun.

The Big Jab Weekend sees mass vaccination centres opening again for first doses for adults amid concerns over the soaring number of Covid cases in the region.

The initiative got off to a good start with reports of queues forming at several vaccination centres.

More than 100 people were at the SSE Arena in Belfast before the doors opened on Saturday and the Western Health Trust reported queues at three centres in its area.

The Belfast Trust said a “great start” had been recorded with queues at Whitla Hall.

Tanya Daly clinical lead for the Covid-19 vaccination programme for the South Eastern Trust at the Covid-19 vaccination centre in the SSE Arena in Belfast.
Tanya Daly clinical lead for the Covid-19 vaccination programme for the South Eastern Trust at the Covid-19 vaccination centre in the SSE Arena in Belfast.

About 86% of the population in Northern Ireland have received their first dose of a vaccine, but concerns have been repeatedly expressed about a lower uptake among younger people.

Health Minister Robin Swann said reaching another 5% could cut in half the numbers of people being admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

This weekend all Northern Ireland’s mass vaccination centres will offer walk-in first jabs for all adult age groups, and there will be walk-in pop-up clinics across Northern Ireland, and jabs by appointment at participating community pharmacies.

The Department of Health said it will be the last chance for anyone aged 18 and over to get their first jab at a mass vaccination centre, as they will soon be winding down.

They stopped offering first doses to the general population at the end of July, but are resuming for this weekend.

Consultant anaesthetist at the South Eastern Health Trust Craig Renfrew at the Covid-19 vaccination centre in the SSE Arena in Belfast.
Consultant anaesthetist at the South Eastern Health Trust Craig Renfrew at the Covid-19 vaccination centre in the SSE Arena in Belfast.

People aged 16 and 17 will be able to access the centres for a first vaccine dose until the end of August.

On Friday, Northern Ireland recorded its highest number of Covid-19 cases in a day since the start of the pandemic.

Some 2,397 confirmed cases of the virus were notified, along with nine deaths of patients who had tested positive

There were 388 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 47 in intensive care.

The region is in another wave of the virus, and Wednesday saw the highest number of Covid-19-related deaths since February.

Mr Swann said: “The latest figures on our Covid-19 dashboard are deeply concerning, both in terms of deaths and new cases

“The Delta variant is taking its toll on Northern Ireland and it is vital that as many of our citizens as possible are vaccinated.”

Northern Ireland has the lowest vaccination rate in the UK, with more than 150,000 adults yet to be vaccinated.

The prevalence of Covid-19 infections in England was around 1 in 80 people in the week ending Aug. 14, Britain's Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Friday, slightly lower than the previous week's estimate of 1 in 75.

Junior doctor Patrick Burke with his parents, retired GPs Dr Bryan Burke and Dr Lorna Holmes at the vaccine centre in the SSE Arena in Belfast.
Junior doctor Patrick Burke with his parents, retired GPs Dr Bryan Burke and Dr Lorna Holmes at the vaccine centre in the SSE Arena in Belfast.

The figures came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government last month lifted nearly all coronavirus restrictions such as the mandatory wearing of masks in indoor public spaces.

The share of people testing positive also fell in Scotland to an estimate of around 1 in 200 people, whilst the trajectory remained uncertain in Northern Ireland where roughly 1 in 50 were estimated to have the virus.

The level increased in Wales to 1 in 130 people, the ONS said.