Last week the Stormont Health Committee received a briefing from the chair of the Inter-departmental Working Group on Mother and Baby Institutions, Judith Gillespie, a departmental briefing on waiting lists and waiting times, on Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment)  Bill and SR 2021/39 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (Amendment No 7) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021.

Meantime in Denmark, Norway and Italy there was concern about clotting in subjects receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine and this spread to Ireland, Germany, Spain and France with vaccinations being suspended whilst the European Medical Agency investigated.

The Irish Director of the Agency, Emer Cooke, was reassuring that the risks of having the vaccine were less than not having it. New vaccines are being approved such as Moderna, Valneva, the one shot Johnson and Johnson and Novartis’ Novavax (89.3 per cent efficacy) in addition to Russian and Chinese vaccines.

A blood clot on the brain is where the blood thickens and forms a clot in an artery bringing blood to the brain in the same way as an artery to the heart may clot in a heart attack but in the brain this is a stroke which may reduce bodily functions like speech or cause death if the damage is large enough.

The Coronavirus causes organ damage by clotting and vaccines given which were made from the virus  need to be excluded. If a vaccine is suspected, alternatives are available and in the south Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are used. Sputnik V and Sinovax are used in Russia and China and some developing countries but would need approval by regulatory agencies such as MHRA and EMA.

In the North, the Executive has decided that schools should reopen. The Education Minister may have gotten his way but the short notice will not endear him to school principals. Years 8-11 will return on 12 April.

The Executive also decided that garden centres could open on a click-and-collect basis and that from 1 April up to six people from no more than two households could meet in a private garden and some non-essential retailers could reopen. Golf could resume but club houses will remain closed other than toilets. Ten people from no more than two households will be allowed to meet in private gardens  and outdoor sports involving up to 15 people can recommence from 12 April. The advice would change to ‘stay local’. 

All non-essential retail could reopen on a click-and-collect basis.

Some international soccer matches would be facilitated but GAA would not commence before 12 April. These are subject to final ratification by the Executive on 08 April.

Politics continues with South Antrim DUP (as revealed in leaked minutes) apparently concerned about what might happen in next year’s elections and the South East Antrim UDA continuing with their activities regardless of the pandemic.

St Patrick’s Day and Easter posed potential threats and it is hoped that people will keep to the public health advice given that surges are beginning in Italy and Germany.

It is to be assumed that the vaccine situation can be sorted out with AstraZeneca and the newer vaccines becoming available. The British Secretary of State has said that supplies of AstraZeneca are ‘lumpy’ with reductions in April and the EU is concerned about shortages.

Arlene and Michelle have spoken online to the vice President and An Taoiseach to the President in the Oval Office with a Waterford bowl of Shamrock being presented remotely.

Let’s hope next year they all can meet in person and that political and economic stability can be maintained as restrictions are eased.

Dr Michael Donnelly MB, BCh, BAO is a clinical epidemiologist.