A new mass vaccination centre in Belfast has welcomed hundreds of people receiving their coronavirus jab within hours of opening.
The Titanic Exhibition Centre has been transformed into a vaccine facility as part of a push to roll out booster jabs before the peak of the Omicron variant hits the region.
Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann visited on the first morning and said the best gift this Christmas is getting the jab.
He described 500 walk-ins within the first few hours as a “flying start”.
Encouraging anyone who has still to come forward for their vaccine, Mr Swann indicated the more people vaccinated, the less chance of severe restrictions having to be implemented.
“I think the best gift that anybody can give themselves this Christmas is coming forward and getting their vaccine,” he said.
Later Mr Swann received his own booster jab from Victoria Robinson, a specialist pharmacist at his local GP practice in Kells, Co Antrim.
He paid tribute to the “incredible work” done by GPs and their teams, health trusts and community pharmacies in rolling out the booster programme.
Dr Patricia Donnelly, the head of Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, also paid tribute to the speed at which the TEC vaccine centre was set up.
She said she had met both young and older people arriving for their first dose of the vaccine, as well as others receiving their booster jab that morning.
“Over the last number of weeks we have seen people coming forward that we haven’t seen for a while, and they tend to be younger people, but there is also, surprisingly, some older people coming forward for their first doses,” she said.
“There are 1.29 million people who have had their second dose, we want all of them to get their booster and we want everyone who has not yet had a first or second dose to come forward now.”
Vaccinators working in the centre ranged from medical students to an 85-year-old former consultant.
William Planck, 18, was among those who received their booster jab at the TEC on Tuesday morning.
“I would definitely recommend it (getting vaccinated), I don’t really see how you couldn’t be vaccinated these days, you can’t get anywhere (without it),” he said.
“I also want to make sure I’m safe and that the people around me are too, especially my grandmother. We look after her, so if I got it, the worst thing would be spreading it to her.”
He said his family have scaled back their Christmas plans due to the rise of the Omicron variant.