Nurse becomes first person on island of Ireland to receive Covid vaccine

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Nurse Becomes First Person On Island Of Ireland To Receive Covid Vaccine
Joanna Sloan becomes the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the first of two Covid-19 vaccine jabs, at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Photo: PA
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By Rebecca Black, PA

Coronavirus vaccinations are taking place in Northern Ireland for the first time.

The first person to receive the jab in the North was a 28-year-old nurse from Dundrum in Co Down.

Joanna Sloan is sister in charge of Covid vaccination for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland’s largest.

Before receiving the jab, she said: “I feel privileged and honoured and a little bit emotional that we have got here – very, very grateful.”

She felt “apprehensive and nervous” beforehand.

As the vaccine was administered, she said she was thinking: “At last – we are here.”

Ms Sloan added: “Through everything that healthcare workers [went through], either in hospital or [the] community – people themselves losing family members, us losing colleagues – it felt like it was a huge moment and that this was and could possibly be the final hurdle in the fight against Covid.”

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Emergency nurse practitioner Carly Niblock (left) reads over advice information documents with Sister Joanna Sloan before she becomes the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine jabs, at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast

She is a former emergency department nurse and has been in her job for six years.

The nurse is engaged, but her wedding was postponed due to the pandemic.

Ms Sloan has a daughter aged five.

Afterwards, she said of the jab: “It did not feel any different than any other immunisation that I have had, I did not feel any pain.”

She said it had been stressful and hard work preparing for the moment.

“We worked tirelessly to make sure that people are safe.”

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, said it was a remarkable day.

“We can begin to look to the future with a degree of optimism, with this vaccine and other vaccines and more effective treatments,” he said.

“Hopefully in the future Covid-19 will become a more manageable disease and we will begin the pathway to a more normal life.”

Dr McBride added that he did not think this day would come so soon, 10 months after Covid-19 was discovered, as opposed to the more normal 10 years taken to develop vaccines.

He recalled the sacrifices and harm caused by the virus as well as the number of lives lost, and warned there will be more challenging months ahead.

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The Royal Victoria Hospital’s centre for delivering the vaccine is a former storage facility which was converted into a clinical environment within a week.

Joanna Sloan is sister in charge of Covid vaccination for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland’s largest.

Staff worked “around the clock” to prepare, Ms Sloan added.

She said her daughter, Cailie, was at school and hoped she would be proud to learn that her mother was the first to receive the jab in Northern Ireland.

They live in the seaside town of Dundrum with Ms Sloan’s fiance Chris.

Their wedding was postponed from September and is scheduled for next April.

Ms Sloan said she hopes there is light at the end of the tunnel for them personally too.

“We may get to have our big day after 10 years of waiting.”

The vaccine will be delivered at seven sites across the North, including the Ulster Hospital’s new emergency department near Belfast, the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena in Co Antrim, Antrim Forum leisure centre, and the Foyle Arena in Derry.

Those who will deliver it to the wider population are the first to receive it.

Residents in care homes and their staff are due to be inoculated before Christmas.

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann said: “Let us not underestimate the importance of today and what we are seeing with the start of our vaccination programme.”

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He told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme: “It is a game-changer, it is a big day. It is the day we have long been waiting for.”

He said it should be greeted with optimism but tempered with caution.

“This is the start of a long road to recovery but we are on the first step.”

On Monday, Mr Swann announced care home residents will also be prioritised in the first phase.

He said deployment of the vaccine to care homes will proceed in the coming days.

The minister said officials have been working on the logistical requirements for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and reached a solution involving mobile teams operating from the different trust vaccination centres.

“We are currently considering how these arrangements might be extended to include over-80s in the community,” Mr Swann added.

The first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab arrived in Northern Ireland last week after it was approved by UK regulators.

It has an efficacy rate of as high as 95 per cent.

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Meanwhile, a 90-year-old grandmother, originally from Enniskillen in Co Fermanagh, became the first person in the world to have the Pfizer jab outside trial conditions.

Margaret Keenan has lived in Coventry in England for more than 60 years.

She said: “Hopefully it’ll help other people come along and do what I did, and try and do the best to get rid of this terrible thing.”

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