Preparations are well under way to begin the roll-out of a Covid-19 vaccination programme from next month.
But Health Minister Robin Swann has said reulatory approval has not yet been issued for any vaccine, so any planning will inevitably be provisional in nature at this stage.
The vaccination programme will be on a phased basis, running well into 2021.
Northern Ireland will be guided by the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) on which population groups will receive the vaccine first.
While JCVI guidance has still to be finalised, it is expected that care home residents and health and social care workers will be the first priority groups.
It is anticipated that further priority groups in early 2021 will be based on age and clinical vulnerability factors.
A public information campaign will encourage take-up and provide assurance on safety and the robustness of the regulatory process for vaccines.
The Health Minister stated: “The progress towards a vaccine is highly impressive and extremely welcome. However, I have to reiterate that regulatory hurdles have still to be cleared so we should take nothing for granted.
“It is essential that people do not relax their guard against Covid-19 now, just because hopes are rising on the vaccine front. We have to keep doing all the right things to protect ourselves against the virus and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future.
“The planned mass vaccination programme will be a major logistical exercise lasting many months, taking us to the middle of next year at least.
“While I am cautious by nature, I am optimistic that vaccination will increasingly do the heavy lifting for us in 2021 in the battle against Coronavirus.
“I am also very heartened by the scale of the preparatory work already undertaken for a vaccination programme in Northern Ireland.”
Today’s Executive meeting was given an update on these preparations by Patricia Donnelly, head of the Covid-19 Vaccine Programme.
The plans include both fixed mass vaccination centres and the deployment of mobile units to care homes. GPs and community pharmacists will also have a key role to play as the programme progresses next year.
The vaccines will be deployed as they become available. It is anticipated that each person receiving the vaccine will require two doses.