Boris Johnson insists all adults will be offered Covid vaccine before end of July despite blow to supply of Oxford/AstraZeneca - New precautionary advice issued for people receiving Oxford/AstraZeneca jab - Batch of 1.7 million Covid-19 vaccines delayed because they need to be retested

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted all adults in the United Kingdom will be offered a Covid-19 by the end of July despite concerns over the supply of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 6:34 pm

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured during his visit to Northern Ireland last week. (Photo: PA Wire)

LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - Boris Johnson insists all adults will be offered Covid vaccine despite blow to supply of Oxford/AstraZeneca jab

Last updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2021, 15:36

  • All adults will be offered at least one dose of vaccine before end of July insists PM
  • Benefits of AstraZeneca vaccine ‘outweigh the possible risks’ says EMA
  • AstraZeneca vaccine safe but MHRA issues new precautionary advice
  • One additional Covid related death and 169 new infections in NI in last 24 hours

P4 to P7 to be back within days with rest of students back on April 12 - announcement expected imminently

Primary schools across Northern Ireland will only have days to prepare for the return of children in primaries four, five, six and seven should the Northern Ireland Executive support a proposal put forward by Education Minister, Peter Weir, this morning.

Minister Weir is expected to recommend that all remaining primary school children return to face-to-face learning on Monday March 22 with secondary and grammar school pupils returning on April 12.

Pre-school, nursery, primary one, primary two and primary three children all returned to the classroom on Monday March 8, 2021.

The Executive had already decided that Year 12, 13 and 14 students would return on Monday, March 22.

Updates to follow.

NI Executive reaches agreement on when schools can reopen and pupils return

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to allow schoolchildren in primaries, four, five, six and seven to return to face-to-face learning on Monday March 22.

The Executive has also agreed all remaining secondary and grammar school pupils will return to classrooms on April 12 but this is subject to a review at the end of March.

More to follow.

Stormont Executive agrees timetable for full school return in NI

Stormont ministers have agreed a timetable for all school children to return to classes in Northern Ireland.

Primary pupils in years P1 to P3 are already back in classes and secondary school children in year groups 12 to 14 are due back on Monday March 22.

The PA news agency understands that ministers have now agreed that remaining primary pupils in P4 to P7 will also return on March 22.

The final cohort – secondary pupils in years 8 to 11 – will go back to classes on April 12 after the Easter holidays.

The proposals from Education Minister Peter Weir were agreed by Executive colleagues at a meeting on Tuesday morning.

The meeting will also see the wider lockdown restrictions reviewed.

Some relaxations are anticipated, with some outdoor sporting activities set to be given resumption dates.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill will go to the Assembly later on Tuesday to outline the decisions.

Northern Ireland has been living under restrictive lockdown measures since a spike of coronavirus cases in December.

The Executive published its Pathway Out Of Restrictions blueprint earlier this month.

It includes five steps along nine pathways – retail; hospitality; education and young people; work; culture, heritage and entertainment; sports and leisure; travel and tourism; worship and ceremonies; and home and community.

The five stages of restriction begin with lockdown then extend to cautious first steps, gradual easing, further easing, and preparing for the future.

The plan did not initially include any dates.

Young child at NI school tests positive for Covid-19

An entire class at a primary school in Northern Ireland is now self-isolating after one of the pupils in that class tested positive for Covid-19.

Ballyoran Primary School Principal, Mr. Richard Woolsey, wrote to parents on Monday informing them of the confirmed case of the virus.

A child at the school’s nursery tested positive for the virus and as a result all of the pupils in that class must now self-isolate said Mr. Woolsey.

“I have sought the most up-to-date advice from the Public Health Agency (PHA) and would like to assure you that I am following their advice at every stage,” assured Mr. Woolsey.

“The parents of the pupils who have been identified as close contacts have been informed.

“Those children must now self-isolate for 10 days from the last date of contact.

“Nursery 2 is now closed and will reopen on Monday 22nd March.

“Pupils in this class will move to Online Learning on See Saw for the rest of this week,” added Mr. Woolsey.

Mr. Woolsey also told parents that if they have not received a letter then their child is not deemed a close contact and should continue to attend school as normal.

The affected area of the school has been closed and will now undergo an enhanced clean.

Ballyoran Primary School is the second school in the Portadown area to confirm a positive case of Covid-19.

St. John the Baptist Primary School confirmed an individual at their school tested positive for the virus last week.

NI Executive reaches agreement on first batch of restriction easements

The Stormont Executive has agreed the following relaxations to lockdown, PA understands.

From April 1

– Up to six people from no more than two households can meet outdoors in a private garden. – Ten people, from no more than two households, able to participate in outdoor sporting activities. Golf courses to reopen (clubhouses to remain closed). – Click and collect purchases allowed from garden centres and plant nurseries.

From April 12

– Up to ten people from no more than two households can meet outdoors in a private garden. – Click and collect at all non-essential retail outlets. – “Stay at home” requirement lifts. Will be replaced by “stay local” message. – Outdoor sports training to resume for sports clubs affiliated with recognised governing bodies with no more than 15 participants in one training group. Indoor club facilities, apart from toilets, to remain closed.

April 12 measures are subject to final ratification by the Executive in the week before they come into effect, likely on April 8.

No indication AstraZeneca jab linked to blood clots, says European regulator

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is conducting a full scientific review of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab but has said it currently “remains convinced” that the “benefits of this vaccine outweigh the risk” - writes Jane Kirby and Joe Gammie, PA.

The regulator, which approved the jab for Europe, is due to offer a further update on Thursday after several European countries halted its use due to reports of some people suffering blood clots following vaccination.

Emer Cooke, the EMA’s executive director, told a press briefing on Tuesday there was no current indication that the Oxford/AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine was the cause of the “very rare” reported blood clots.

“I want to stress at present there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions,” she said.

“They have not come up in the clinical trials and they are not listed as known side events with this vaccine.

“In clinical trials both vaccinated people and people who received the placebo have shown some very small number of blood clot developments.

“The number of thromboembolic events overall in vaccinated people seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population.”

A number of countries have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Some countries have suspended use of a particular batch of the jab due to concerns, but Ms Cooke said the small number of reports from Europe involved several batches and “therefore it is unlikely to be something related to a specific batch”.

However, she said this would form part of the EMA’s ongoing investigation.

Some 30 cases of blood clots had been reported to the EMA by March 10 among almost five million people vaccinated, but additional cases had been reported over the weekend, Ms Cooke said.

She said there would be an increase in the reporting of such cases due to the publicity surrounding the current reports.

The EMA is looking at the incidence of blood clots and some reports of abnormally low levels of blood platelets among some people who have had the jab.

Ms Cooke said: “We have pulled together an ad hoc meeting again today to help us evaluate these cases with all the surrounding information that the member states will have.

“The experts will then carry on their assessment and again will meet on Thursday to come to a conclusion on the full information that has been gathered, and to advise us as to whether there are any further actions that need to be taken.

“We will inform the public of the outcome immediately after this meeting.

“Our experts are working tirelessly to carry out this assessment as quickly as possible, but it needs a scientific evaluation. We need to have the facts first. We cannot come to a conclusion until we have done a thorough scientific analysis and we owe it to the European citizens to deliver this clear and science-based response.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is reviewing the safety of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine after some countries have halted its use due to concerns over blood clots (Photo: Getty Images)

She said that “trust in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines we’ve authorised is paramount for us”, adding the EMA was worried “there may be an effect on the trust of the vaccines”.

But she said the priority was to ensure that vaccines “can be used safely”.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) global advisory committee on vaccine safety is also meeting on Tuesday to discuss the jab but has urged countries to continue using it.

Several European countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark and Norway, have suspended rollout of the vaccine.

Sweden added itself to the list on Tuesday, saying the move was precautionary.

Ms Cooke was asked about reports of blood clots in relation to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and how these compared with reports for AstraZeneca.

Doctor Kate Martin (L) administers an injection of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to a patient (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

She said: “We are looking at adverse effects associated with all vaccines.

“At the moment the current focus, because of the reported instances in Europe, is of the AstraZeneca (vaccine) but we have looked at the background rates for all the vaccines currently in circulation and it looks like there are similar numbers coming in across the world.

“But that’s something that will have to be evaluated by our committee.”

Earlier, the director general of Italy’s medicines authority, Nicola Magrini, told Italian daily newspaper la Repubblica that the decision by some European countries to suspend the rollout was a “political one”.

He said the vaccine was safe and added: “We got to the point of a suspension because several European countries, including Germany and France, preferred to interrupt vaccinations… to put them on hold in order to carry out checks. The choice is a political one.”

According to AstraZeneca, about 17 million people in the EU and the UK have received a dose of the vaccine, with fewer than 40 cases of blood clots reported to date.

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the decision to pause rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab could be a “disaster” for Covid-19 vaccine uptake in Europe.

Asked what he would say to those in the UK who are booked to receive the vaccine, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I really wouldn’t be worried at the present time.

“I think it is very clear that the benefits of being vaccinated at the moment so far outweigh the possible concern over this rather rare type of blood clot.

“It really is a completely one-sided argument statistically that we need to be vaccinating.

“I think it is a disaster for the vaccination uptake in Europe, which is already on slightly unsteady ground in some countries.”

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told Good Morning Britain that Covid was far more risky in terms of developing blood clots than any vaccine side effect.

He said: “It’s really important to remember that Covid is a vascular illness and causes clots all over the body.

“So, the risk of developing blood clots from Covid far, far exceeds any potential risk from the vaccination.”

Prof Harnden said he had “no doubt that this vaccine is safe and effective”, adding: “What I don’t understand is the nuances behind the Europeans’ decisions and their data, and that will become apparent in the next few days I hope and will be filtered through our regulator.”

Hairdressers, barbers and salons in Scotland can reopen on April 5 but in Northern Ireland they must remain closed

Hairdressers, barbers and salons in Scotland can reopen on April 5 but in Northern Ireland they must remain closed for now.

In fact, the Northern Ireland Executive has not indicated a date or even a range of dates that it envisages it being safe to reopen hairdressers and other retail outlets labelled as close contact.

First Minister, Arlene Foster, said whilst she was happy to be announcing relaxations it was important the public remain vigilant because “numbers can rise rapidly”.

The DUP leader warned of a continuing need for caution against the virus, saying Covid is “still with us” with 176 confirmed Covid-positive inpatients in hospitals and 13 active care home outbreaks.

“These are better numbers than we have seen in recent times since the latest restrictions took effect on December 26,” she said.

“But these numbers still tell us that caution is important. We have seen how numbers can rise rapidly and we do not want to go back there.”

Mrs Foster summarised the Executive’s outlook as “cautious but optimistic”.

Potential four week delay to NI Covid-19 vaccination scheme because of vaccine supply issue

The head of Northern Ireland's Covid-19 vaccination scheme has said the cancellation of a substantial order of vaccines could delay NI's vaccination scheme by up to four weeks.

Patricia Donnelly made the comments as she briefed the Northern Ireland Health Committee on Thursday morning.

Ms. Donnelly said a potential four week delay was a worst case scenario but explained it could end up being a two week delay because of mitigations that will be in place.

She said all first jab appointments already booked will be honoured and those expecting a second jab will also receive it.

Ms Donnelly said more people would continue to get first jabs in April but at a slightly reduced rate.

She said the delivery issues could knock back the rollout plan by four weeks in a “worst case scenario” but said the delay was more likely to be around two weeks.

“I think, worst case scenario, it probably puts us back by four weeks,” she told the committee.

“The mitigation measures that we put in place we hope will only delay us by two weeks, so it won’t have a huge impact.”

Over-40s vaccine roll out delayed by two weeks

A mass vaccination centre at Belfast’s SSE Arena is due to open at the end of March.

Ms Donnelly said the initial hope was that by the time the centre began operating the vaccine would be on offer to the over-40 age cohort.

She said the over-40s were now likely to have to wait for a further fortnight.

“We have scaled down slightly the opening weeks in the SSE Arena,” she said.

“It has the capacity for 40,000 (a week) but in the first weeks we’re looking at 11,000 building up to 20,000 and then up to 30,000 in subsequent weeks.”

Ms Donnelly added: “We had hoped by the time we would launch the SSE Arena that we would be opening to the over-40s. I think that will be maybe delayed by two weeks but we’ll keep that under review and it will very much depend on the remaining deliveries that we get from AstraZeneca.”

Ms Donnelly continued: “We have tried to find some mitigation through further use of the Pfizer vaccine. So, it will slightly delay it, but it won’t I think reduce our plans overall.”

Armed forces will administer Covid jabs in SSE Arena

Members of the armed forces will administer Covid-19 vaccines to the public in the SSE Arena in Belfast when it opens as mass vaccination centre at the end of March, the head of Northern Ireland’s vaccination scheme has confirmed.

Patricia Donnelly told the Stormont Health Committee on Thursday morning that

“We expect within the SSE Arena there will be a number of military who will be vaccinating as part of the team.

“I think this will become an important part of the SSE Arena programme.”

DoH insists Covid-19 'vaccinations will be honoured'

Vaccination appointments for first and second doses will continue to be honoured in Northern Ireland, it has been emphasised.

The advice to those who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination remains the same – get the jab.

You can do so either by booking in at one of the regional vaccination centres, or waiting for your GP to contact you and booking you at your local GP practice. From the end of this month, community pharmacists will also start providing jabs.

Assuring the public, the head of Northern Ireland’s vaccination programme Patricia Donnelly said: “This month, we were due to receive two large consignments of the Astra Zeneca vaccine. The quantities involved would have been significantly over and above what we had originally expected. The first of these large consignments arrived last week and is playing its part in the current roll-out.

“We have now received confirmation that the second large consignment will be delayed into next month. Such changes to the supply schedule are to be expected and we have always been clear that the vaccination programme was subject to available supplies. The programme is actually currently ahead of schedule and we remain firmly on course to offer vaccines to the entire adult population by the summer.

“I also want to make clear that existing appointments for first and second doses will continue to be honoured and indeed that appointments remain available for booking. The advice to those who are eligible has not changed – get the jab.

“The delay with this particular consignment does have some implications for what would have been a further acceleration of the programme in April. We are planning mitigations to limit this impact, including further use of our Pfizer vaccine stocks. Everyone is asked to be patient – we will get to you.”

The vaccination centres are providing vaccines to: the 50 plus age group; anyone who received a shielding letter because they are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV); and anyone who is a main carer of an elderly or disabled person.

GPs are providing vaccines to: the 50 plus age group; anyone who received a shielding letter because they are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV); carers; patients aged 18 and over who have underlying medical conditions. The latter Clinically Vulnerable (CV) group is expected to largely mirror those who receive the winter flu vaccine each year because of their medical conditions.  CEV and CV individuals aged 16 and 17 years of age cannot receive the vaccine being used in GP practices. These individuals will receive a letter from their GP and are able to book a vaccination slot at one of the vaccination centres.

There is no need to contact your GP regarding vaccination – they will contact you as they work through their lists.

People wanting to book a vaccination centre appointment are asked to do so online if it all possible: https://vaccinations.covid-19.hscni.net/booking(external

If online booking is not possible, then the telephone booking number is 0300 200 7813.

The booking line is open 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday.

Batch of 1.7 million Covid-19 vaccines delayed because they need to be retested

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that a batch of 1.7 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been delayed.

He told the Commons: “In April, supply is tighter than this month and we have a huge number of second doses to deliver. During April, around 12 million people, including many colleagues in this House will receive their second dose.

“These second doses cannot be delayed as they have to be delivered within 12 weeks of the first dose.

“In the last week, we’ve had a batch of 1.7 million doses delayed because of the need to retest its stability.

“Events like this are to be expected in a manufacturing endeavour of this complexity and this shows the rigour of our safety checks.”

One additional Covid related death and 169 new infections in last 24 hours

One further death of a patient who previously tested positive for Covid-19 has been reported in Northern Ireland.

Another 169 confirmed cases of the virus were recorded by the Department of Health in the last 24-hour reporting period.

On Thursday, there were 167 Covid positive confirmed inpatients in hospital, of whom 16 were in ICU.

The five cases of blood clotting occurred in five different men after they received the vaccine

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there is no proven causal association with what is still extremely rare blood clotting events and the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the balance of benefits and known risks of the vaccine are favourable.

The regulator has received five reports of a rare blood clot after five men received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

The  clot – cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) – prevents blood from draining out of the brain.

One of these cases was fatal, experts from the regulator told a press briefing.

AstraZeneca vaccine safe but MHRA issues new precautionary advice

Despite declaring the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as safe the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued some new precautionary advice for anyone who receives it.

Chief Executive of the MHRA, Dr. June Raine said: “Given the extremely rare rate of occurrence of these CSVT events among the 11 million people vaccinated, and as a link to the vaccine is unproven, the benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, continue to outweigh the risks of potential side effects.

“You should therefore continue to get your jab when it is your turn.

“While we continue to investigate these cases, as a precautionary measure we would advise anyone with a headache that lasts for more than 4 days after vaccination, or bruising beyond the site of vaccination after a few days, to seek medical attention.

“However, please remember that mild flu-like symptoms remain one of the most common side effects of any COVID-19 vaccine, including headache, chills and fever. These generally appear within a few hours and resolve within a day or two, but not everyone gets them.

“We will continue to robustly monitor all the data we have on this extremely rare possible side effect.”

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