Community pharmacists will now be taking the ‘lead role’ in administering first doses of Covid vaccines across Northern Ireland as part of a new phase of the programme, the health minister has said.

Around 130 pharmacies across NI are now set up to provide the Moderna vaccine to any individuals over 18 who have not yet received their first dose.

The first dose take up is currently 89% in the country, however it is hoped that the additional capacity and accessibility offered by pharmacies will take that figure above 90%.

Health minister Robin Swann said: ‘I am delighted that a large number of community pharmacists are on board for this phase. They will now be taking the lead role in providing first doses. Every single jab administered in Northern Ireland is important, every single dose makes a difference.

‘With the eight-week gap between doses, anyone coming forward for their first dose now will still have time for their second jab before Christmas. They can enjoy the festive season with the added and vital protection that vaccination gives – both for them and people close to them.’

Chief executive of Community Pharmacy NI, Gerard Greene, added: ‘We are very pleased that 130 community pharmacies will be providing the Moderna vaccine to all those who have yet to receive their Covid-19 jab and that pharmacies will be the central point within primary care for administering first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.

‘Receiving the vaccine at an accessible local community pharmacy from a clinician they know and trust is tremendously important, with pharmacists across Northern Ireland well-experienced in delivering vaccines having already administered over 143,000 Covid-19 doses since March.

‘As we enter into the winter period, it is even more vital that we all get vaccinated to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our health service which is already under huge strain.’

Around 16 pharmacies in Northern Ireland began administering the Moderna vaccine in the summer, with the plan to add additional pharmacies on a rolling basis.

Almost 350 pharmacies across the country delivered the AstraZeneca vaccine after the sector began administering vaccines in March.