Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer has given his full backing to Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccine programme and said: “They are protecting people from Covid-19 – and saving lives.”
Dr Michael McBride was responding to differing reports on the effectiveness of the vaccines, in particular Astra Zeneca’s.
But he urged people to be confident in the vaccines being rolled out in Northern Ireland right now and urged everyone eligible for the shot, to have it.
Dr McBride said: “The Astra Zeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are protecting people from Covid-19 – and saving lives.
“They have been independently and expertly assessed as effective against the strains of the virus that are dominant in Northern Ireland and elsewhere on these islands. They have been approved for the entire adult population.
“I’m aware of a small scale study that suggests that Astra Zeneca may not be as effective against mild disease from the South Africa variant of the virus.”
The safety of the approved AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines has been confirmed by data published by the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the UK’s independent medicines regulator.
More than 10 million doses of the vaccines have been given across the UK and the MHRA has gathered a large amount of safety data.
Newly published data shows 22,820 reports of suspected side effects – an overall reporting rate of 3 in 1,000 doses of vaccine administered from 9 December 2020 to 24 January 2021.
The vast majority of reported side effects are mild and all are in line with most types of vaccine, including the seasonal flu vaccine. These include sore arms and mild ‘flu-like’ symptoms, which reflect a normal immune response to vaccines and are short-lasting.
Dr McBride said: “Clearly, more studies will be required on the full efficacy of vaccines against all variants. But I wish to assure people here on two important fronts.
“Firstly, the South Africa variant is not dominant in the UK – indeed there have been no confirmed cases of it at all in Northern Ireland at this time.
“Secondly, while protection against mild disease is obviously desirable, the most important objective is protection against serious illness, hospitalisation and death. Any vaccine that achieves that is a successful vaccine.
“Of course, we must take the emergence of new variants seriously. We can all play our part in doing that – by taking those steps that prevent the virus in any form spreading.
“The emergence of new variants in recent months underlines once again the need for maximum vigilance.
“The roll out of the Astra Zeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines is hugely important. It gives real hope that we will get through this pandemic.
“But this is not the time to ease up or imagine that all restrictions will very shortly be a thing of the past.
“We protect ourselves against all variants of Covid-19 in the same way – that includes staying at home, working from home if at all possible, keeping our distance from others when we have to go out, washing our hands and wearing a face covering. It also includes avoiding busy confined spaces where ventilation is limited.
“The more this virus spreads, the more opportunity it gets to mutate and produce new variants. We all have a vital role in preventing it spreading.”
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