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virus battle North should share their excess vaccines with the rest of Ireland says Dr Gabriel Scally

Medic says UK has on order, three to four times the number of vaccines they need to inoculate the population

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Dr Gabriel Scally.

Dr Gabriel Scally.

Dr Gabriel Scally.

Northern Ireland should share excess vaccination doses with the rest of the island. Leading epidemiologist, Dr Gabriel Scally told the Sunday World the benefits of the North's spectacular vaccine rollout are being nullified by the Republic's programme lagging so far behind.

The Government is set to ramp up its programme in the coming weeks but is currently only vaccinating those 68 and over, while in the North those over 40 are getting the jab.

"Should we be sharing vaccines with the Republic? Of course we should," he said, "there's no way round that, and it is absolutely in our interests for the programme in Ireland to be on a par with ours."

He said the UK has on order, three to four times the number of vaccines they need to inoculate the population.

"None of us are well until we are all well."

And he warned of the consequences of increased cross-border traffic as restrictions here are eased in the coming weeks.

"Will people come north for a pint, or a haircut? You bet they will and it is more than likely they will be of an age group that will not have got the jab."

Dr Scally, a former health professional at the Eastern Health Board in Belfast, but now a leading public health expert in England and a member of the Sage, an independent advisory group to the British government, said the vaccine programme there has been `hugely impressive.'

"It is giving us protection, and is so effective in reducing the number of infections and hospital admissions, this is happening on a scale that none of us, anywhere in the world has ever seen before."

He said the development of further vaccines set to come on stream in the coming months was encouragement of light at the end of the tunnel.

Anyone offered a jab should "absolutely take it" he said, but he said it was "right and proper" concerns over possible side effects should be investigated.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been dogged with health concerns in recent weeks with a number of countries, including Ireland, suspending it's use in certain age groups.

The Johnson & Johnson jab has also been plagued by possible side-effects and it use has been suspended.

"It's a tribute to the safety regulations that are in place," Dr Scally said, "these side effects need to be investigated but it needs to be done quickly; people need to feel confident about taking the vaccine."

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He said, the risks are so miniscule, he had no concerns about their safety.

"The numbers (of blood clots) are tiny, we have no alternative; we have to plough on, because make no mistake we are playing catch-up with this virus, it is still winning the race."

He acknowledged that for a variety of reasons people will not take the vaccine.

"We still have a duty to protect them; getting the nation vaccinated helps."

Fresh surges of the virus across the world pose the greatest threat to public health. A petition signed by 170 world leaders and human rights activists, including former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, is calling for a `people's vaccine' targeted mainly at frontline nations struggling to role out vaccine programmes.

"It is the arrival of variants such as those in Brazil that pose the greatest threat, we have seen a huge surge in Chile despite an impressive vaccination programme, they lifted restrictions allowing tourists to come in etc… and they are now wilting under the worst surge since the start of the pandemic."

He was speaking as it was revealed a new Indian variant has been found in the UK, where 77 cases of the variant, described as a 'double mutation', have been traced.

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