The first batch of the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has arrived in Ireland with initial vaccinations expected to be administered on Wednesday.

The vaccines will not be administered until 30 December as the HSE said training and education for vaccinators must be finalised before inoculations begin.

It said its "priority is the safe and effective rollout of all vaccines in a managed and systemic manner".

In a statement, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the arrival of the vaccines was a "significant and positive step forward after a very challenging year".

The vaccine is being stored in ultra-low refrigeration conditions at a secure location ahead of the roll-out of the national vaccination programme.

The Pfizer-BioNTech uses new mRNA genetic technology, which means it must be stored at around -70C.

Mr Donnelly said the vaccine was "rigorously tested by the European Medicines Agency and was found to be safe and effective.

"It is a massive achievement by the scientific and medical communities. This vaccine will save many lives."

He added that the recent increase in cases "focuses our collective minds on the continued challenge of Covid-19" and urged people to continue to follow all public health guidelines.

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In a tweet just after the vaccine had arrived, Mr Donnelly asked "when is a fridge worth photographing? When it's just had Ireland's first #Covid vaccines put in it".

Taoiseach Micheál Martin tweeted: "A day of great hope as we head into 2021. Those who work in our health services deserve huge credit as they swiftly and safely begin the roll out to the most vulnerable in our society."

Health Service Executive CEO Paul Reid said on Twitter that "we can now have a "twin track" approach to our response to #Covid19. Public health measures along with the vaccine, for a brighter future". 

Earlier, he described today as a "momentous day" and said "there will be better days ahead for sure". 

The initial delivery of the vaccine is being organised in conjunction with similar deliveries across all 27 EU member states.

The head of the Covid-19 vaccine task force Professor Brian MacCraith said the arrival of the vaccine represents "a bright new dawn of hope".

HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said that while the arrival of the vaccine is a positive development, people need to keep their guard up, particularly with increased community transmission and case numbers continuing to rise.

It comes as Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan confirmed that a more contagious form of coronavirus has been detected in Ireland.

He said the Health Service Executive is making arrangements to test recent UK arrivals and that anyone arriving from the country should strictly self-isolate for a full 14 days after entering Ireland.

From tomorrow no new inter-county travel will be allowed, although people already away from home over Christmas can return to their own counties.

The Department of Health was notified of 1,296 new cases of Covid-19 today.

There has now been 85,394 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

A further six deaths have occurred, bringing the total number of Covid-19 related deaths to 2,200.

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