Northern Ireland’s health minister has expressed concern at an incident where some young women were reportedly targeted by anti-vaccine protesters.

Robin Swann said they were heath and social care workers who had been arriving at a regional vaccination centre to receive their coronavirus inoculations.

More than 100,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered, with 91,419 people having received their first dose by Tuesday evening.

Robin Swann
Health Minister Robin Swann appears at the Stormont Health committee by video link (NI Assembly/PA)

“Unfortunately I had a report last week that we were seeing some evidence of protesters appearing outside a regional vaccination centre, and actually with a very concerning narrative,” he said.

“They were approaching young women who are employed in our health service who were coming forward to receive their vaccination, and actually targeting them specifically about how this vaccine would affect their fertility in the future. Quite a negative and wrong position to be putting them in, and a damaging one.

“It was a very small number at one specific site, so I don’t want to give them any more oxygen than they deserve … This (anti-vaccine view) is not something we have seen being deep-rooted in Northern Ireland.”

Appearing at the Stormont health committee on Thursday, Mr Swann said he expects the effects of the vaccination programme to be felt by spring.

He told MLAs that the rollout is making “good and steady progress” but said it is a “huge logistical challenge”.

Care home residents and staff were the first priority group.

“The vaccination of our frontline and health and social care workers is also well underway, and additional staff groups from the wider health and social care family, such as our community pharmacy, dentistry, independent domiciliary care workers, have been given access to these (vaccination) sites, and will be over the next few weeks,” he said.

“I am confident we will see rapid progress through those first four groups recommended by JCVI for vaccination – care home residents and staff, the over 80s, health and social care workers, those aged 70 and over, as well as those who are classified as clinically extremely vulnerable.”

Mr Swann said it is vital that even those who have been vaccinated continue to abide by coronavirus restrictions to help limit the spread of the virus.

“It will probably be early spring before we see the effects of the vaccination programme,” he said.

“Until then, we need to do all that we can to protect ourselves, protect our loved ones, protect wider society and protect the health service, and at this critical juncture, there is still no room for complacency.”

Mr Swann said more deliveries of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab are due to arrive in Northern Ireland next week.

“It hasn’t been possible in some GP practices to vaccinate all the 80 or overs in this original batch because of the number of vaccines that we received in the first delivery but as the supply of vaccines comes online and is more secured – GP practices will be able to get through those cohorts as quickly as possible,” he said.