Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer said he did not hesitate in having an AstraZeneca vaccine, despite the temporary pause of its rollout in the Irish Republic.
Dr Michael McBride received his first jab on Monday as the vaccination programme north of the border opened to those aged 50 and above.
The latest phase of the rollout was announced after the Irish Republic joined a number of other European countries in temporarily suspending use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after reports from Norway of a small number of vaccinated people who had developed serious blood clots.
Dr McBride, who received his shot at the Ulster Hospital at Dundonald near Belfast, insisted the vaccine was “safe and effective”.
He said the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had made clear there was no evidence of a link between the vaccine and reported cases of blood clots.
He said there had been no reported concerns of vaccine linkage to clotting in Northern Ireland.
“I didn’t need to be called a second time this morning when the opportunity was to get my vaccine,” he said.
In regard to the clotting reports, Dr McBride said: “The MHRA is very clear that they do not feel that those are linked to the vaccine and are probably random events which are occurring, and would have occurred, normally.
“What the public should be assured of is that the MHRA is a global leader in safety and efficacy of vaccines and is publishing data on side effects on a weekly basis.”
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster, who is now eligible to book a vaccination slot, urged people to continue taking the vaccine.
“I am looking forward to taking it, either this week or next week, depending on when I am able to get my vaccine booked for, but it is very important that people continue to take the vaccine,” she said.
“We have made huge progress in the UK in relation to the vaccine so it is important that people continue to do that so we can leave lockdown in the rear view mirror and we can move on with our lives.”
After receiving his vaccine, Dr McBride added: “I was delighted to get the AstraZeneca vaccine this morning.
“This is a safe, effective vaccine as recommended by MHRA and let’s remember – this virus kills people, kills people my age, younger people and older people, and the benefit is strongly in favour of people getting this vaccine at this time.”
Dr McBride said he had spoken to Ireland’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn at “some length” on Sunday about the move to pause the rollout of AstraZeneca south of the border.
“Those are rightly matters for the authorities in the Republic,” he said.
“They made a very precautionary decision, they’ve recognised that, while they assess the evidence more fully.
“MHRA has looked at and will continue to look at the evidence, and I’m satisfied that the right thing to do, the balance of risk and benefit, is to continue with the vaccine, and that’s why I’m here today getting my vaccine.
“I think it’s crucially important that vaccination programmes are rolled out.
“The MHRA have looked at all of this data, they continue to look at the data on an ongoing basis, they see no causal link between the vaccine and these events that are being reported.
“I think we can all be confident that the authorities in all countries keep this under continuous review and we can take confidence (from that).
“Obviously the authorities in the Republic have made a decision. I understand that was a very precautionary decision. And they’re going to look at that later this week.”
Asked to describe his feelings about being vaccinated, Dr McBride said: “I was very relieved and pleased to get the vaccine today and I would encourage everyone else to get the vaccine when they are called, when they come to the top of the queue.
“This is part of our pathway out of this virus, out of this pandemic, this virus has taken a huge toll on each and every one of us. This, hopefully, is the beginning of us having a different balance as we continue to fight this pandemic.
“I’m really, really pleased to get the vaccine and I’m relieved to get the vaccine.”