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DUP South Antrim MLA who is also Vice-Chair of Stormont’s Health Committee Pam Cameron has welcomed plans to vaccinate everyone over 65 in Northern Ireland against Covid-19 by the end of February but warned that clear and regular communication with patients and the wider public is needed to ensure every opportunity to deliver this lifesaving protection is utilised.

‘‘The expansion of the vaccination programme to everyone over 65 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) to the virus is a huge step forward in the fight against the virus. This has only been made possible through the tireless efforts of our teams of vaccinators working in Trust centres, GP practices and mobile teams.

As GPs now start to focus on the 70 plus age group and our seven vaccination centres offer appointments to 65–69-year-olds it will be absolutely vital that patients are fully aware of what they need to do to secure an appointment. This is especially true for those who will be asked to book a slot. Making the system accessible and hassle-free will be essential.

There is also a need to establish regular communication between Trusts and GPs to ensure no patient in any eligible priority group is left behind or disadvantaged. Scaling up the vaccine programme will no doubt throw up logistical challenges and I would urge the Department to redouble its efforts to ensure distribution channels are as smooth, flexible and efficient as possible.’’

Mrs Cameron also reiterated her Party’s desire to see staff special schools staff granted ‘carer status’ for the purposes of the vaccination programme.

She added:

‘‘Teachers and staff in special schools are providing an essential service to children with additional needs right across Northern Ireland, many of whom are clinically extremely vulnerable and cannot avail of the vaccines currently available to the adult population.

A significant amount of their work involves personal care and interactions where social distancing is simply not possible. There is a strong case therefore for classing this group of frontline workers as carers in order to ensure they can avail of the vaccine as soon as possible and enable them to form protective bubbles around their pupils.

Ultimately by moving toward a 24/7 vaccination model and maximising all available skills and capacity, including community pharmacies, additional capacity could be created to expand this vital protection to more groups. In the meantime, the most vulnerable and those working in close contact at a higher risk of exposure should and must be prioritised.’’