Republic of Ireland citizens who have lived in Northern Ireland can book a vaccine in Northern Ireland, subject to some eligibility criteria, without fear of penalty.
The Department of Health in Northern Ireland has confirmed that Irish citizens who book a vaccine in the North using an old NHS number from a previous period of residency will face no sanction should they be told they have failed to match the eligibility threshold.
Further, living at an address in the Republic “wouldn’t automatically rule you out from receiving the vaccine” the department said.
Obtaining a vaccine in the North, which is now allowing citizens aged 50 and over to apply for the shot, has become a more attractive option for Irish citizens given the UK’s rollout of the inoculations has greatly outpaced that of the EU.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health in the North said that anyone being vaccinated must be registered with a GP there and have a valid Northern Ireland healthcare number.
They said that for anyone who has forgotten their number the NHS will look it up for them upon booking.
“Those without a Northern Ireland health and care will not be vaccinated,” they said.
Asked how many Republic of Ireland citizens have thus far requested and received a vaccination across the Border, the spokesperson said such data will not become available “until the vaccine management system is fully operational”.
Last week Cork entrepreneur Pat Phelan, who is in his 50s, discovered the loophole after talking to a friend who had received the vaccination.
With this number and the fact that Mr Phelan is still registered with a GP in London, he was later able to book a vaccine in Derry.
“I wanted to try it out and went on to book a vaccine, and it gave me Good Friday,” said Mr Phelan.
He said that all the requirements stated that he must bring photo identification and something with his date of birth on it to the vaccination centre.
Mr Phelan said that he would not be availing of the vaccination as he didn’t feel it would be fair.
“I won’t take it. I’m very healthy and well,” he said.
“But it is open and people can do it. It's unfair on the British obviously, because if I was to go up there, I'd be stealing someone's spot.”
On the NHS website, where you can book a vaccination, it says that you will need to be registered with a GP. However, Mr Phelan said he was not asked to provide proof of this, but is registered with a GP in London.
He said he was given the time, dates and locations for both vaccinations, and the whole process took him seconds.
It’s unclear whether or not such ‘vaccine tourism’ has been registered as a possible stumbling block via diplomatic channels between the Irish and British governments.
A spokesperson for the HSE said eligibility for a Northern Irish vaccine is a matter for its department of health, and would not be drawn as to whether or not the HSE or Irish government would have any objections to such vaccinations.