Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer has encouraged take-up of the Covid-19 vaccine as eligibility expanded to the over-40s.
All those aged between 40 and 44 were able to book a jab from noon on Thursday.
Dr Michael McBride said he strongly encourages everyone to come forward for their vaccination when they become eligible.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks overall.
Dr McBride – who has received his first dose of AstraZeneca – said the expert advice is clear that the benefits “far outweigh any potential risk for the vast majority of adults”.
“The potential risk from this rare blood clotting condition is extremely low – and a definite link to vaccination has not yet been established,” he said.
“The risk/benefit calculation is different for those under 30, due to the reduced threat posed to this age group by Covid and the availability of other vaccines.
“For the rest of us, it is essential to understand that Covid-19 represents a much greater risk. Covid-19 has claimed many lives in Northern Ireland and left many others with debilitating long-term health issues. It is also the case that Covid infection itself brings an increased risk of blood clots.”
“It will continue to have a vital role in saving lives, reducing hospitalisations and helping us move out of lockdown,” he said.
“Like hundreds of thousands of other people in Northern Ireland, I was very pleased and relieved to receive my first AstraZeneca dose. I am looking forward to receiving my second AZ jab when my turn comes.
“We all want to live without a constant dread of Covid and to get our old lives back. Vaccination has an essential role in ensuring we have a better and safer summer.”
Health Minister Robin Swann earlier welcomed the latest eligibility expansion.
“Vaccination is by far our best defence against Covid-19 and is essential to our goal of getting Northern Ireland out of lockdown on a sustainable basis,” he said.
The Department of Health described the rollout of the vaccination programme as dependent on the availability of vaccine supplies.
By Wednesday, almost one million doses of vaccine had been administered in Northern Ireland.
Of the 958,783 total, 790,860 were first doses and 167,923 were second doses.
Vaccinations in Northern Ireland can be booked online at https://covid-19.hscni.net/get-vaccinated/
Where online booking is not possible, the telephone booking number is 0300 200 7813.
On Thursday, the deaths of a further two people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland were announced by the Department of Health.
Another 98 confirmed cases were recorded in the last 24-hour reporting period.
On Thursday morning, there were 102 confirmed Covid-positive inpatients in hospital, of whom 12 were in intensive care.