Northern Ireland has witnessed a surge in people coming forward for their first vaccination since the region’s Covid certification scheme was announced, the chief medical officer has said.
Sir Michael McBride said 10,000 people had presented for a first jab in the last week – a number he described as “quite remarkable”.
The mandatory certification scheme comes into operation across the hospitality sector next week, though enforcement of fines for non-compliance will not begin until two weeks later, on December 13.
Sir Michael, who received his Covid booster dose at a north Belfast vaccine centre on Wednesday, said access to pubs and restaurants was a key motivating factor among many people who were coming forward.
He said: “100,000 doses of vaccine have been given in the last week alone.
“We’ve seen 10,000 people come forward for first doses – that’s quite remarkable – and over 84,000 booster doses.”
Sir Michael said there was a “combination of motives” influencing the increase in the rate of first doses.
“I think people have delayed and I think people do recognise the fact that it is really, really important to get your vaccine, not just to protect yourself but others,” he said.
“But, also, it opens up that pathway into hospitality and I think there’s no doubt there is evidence that people will get the vaccine because they recognise that it opens doors into pubs and restaurants and allows people to get their lives back.”
He said the certification scheme may actually increase footfall in hospitality businesses, rather than reduce it.
“I think there’s going to be a bounce from this for hopefully hospitality in particular, because more people, more people like me, will feel more confident going out into hospitality knowing that everyone has either been vaccinated or has had a lateral flow test and it’s not infectious.
“I hope that in the longer term this is beneficial to many sectors.”
Community pharmacist Peter Rice administered Sir Michael’s booster dose at the Houben Centre on Wednesday.
He said the centre had witnessed a “significant” increase in people presenting for first doses in recent days.
“About 30% of our doses at the minute are for first doses, which is quite unusual,” he said.
“Previously it would have been about one or two per day, so it’s quite a significant uplift.”
Mr Rice said he had noticed a real change since the announcement of the certification system.
“With anyone getting their first dose we have just out of natural curiosity been asking them and the main reasons cited are either the vaccine passport, so they can socialise with their friends, or going on holiday.
“I think it’s just becoming apparent that this is the new normal and it’s safe and very effective. They’ve seen family members get Covid and the effect it can have on them.”
He said it was not just younger people presenting for first jabs.
“We’ve had people 18-plus but we’ve also had people in the their 50s and 60s coming forward for their first dose now, so it really is across the whole spectrum.”
Under the compulsory certification scheme, people wishing to gain entry to designated venues will need to demonstrate evidence of Covid-19 vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result, or proof of a coronavirus infection within the previous six months.
Four of the five Stormont Executive parties voted in favour of the scheme proposed by Health Minister Robin Swann. DUP ministers voted against it, describing the initiative as a “distraction” that would have marginal impact.