Analysis: Ambitious Covid-19 vaccine delivery plan will be most at risk in rural areas

The first doses will be of the Pfizer vaccine, if it is approved.The first doses will be of the Pfizer vaccine, if it is approved.
The first doses will be of the Pfizer vaccine, if it is approved.
The government had held out on giving details of a vaccine delivery plan, with announcements from England about GPs, the military and nightingale hospitals all met with stony silence north of the border.

But Health Secretary Jeane Freeman made up for the wait with a promise that one million Scots will be vaccinated by the end of January, and that everyone over 18 will be offered a vaccine by Spring 2021.

Not everyone will take this up, but around 60 to 70 per cent will be enough to give population immunity, which National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said earlier this week should be enough to dispense with masks and social distancing.

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These promises are dependent on there being enough vaccines approved, and the Scottish Government being able to roll them out.

Pfizer chief Albert Bourla has said his company will apply for approval in the next few days, and start shipping within hours of it being granted.

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Scotland, on the other hand, has failed to deliver on both its Covid-19 testing operation and the expanded flu vaccination campaign this year, with both plagued with delays, shortages, and worried, frustrated Scots desperate to receive the service they were promised.

One of the biggest gaps in Ms Freeman’s plan relates to rural areas - the Pfizer vaccine must be transported at low temperatures, needs to be diluted, and comes in vials of five doses, making it very difficult to give to someone in their own home.

The three front-running vaccines all require two doses, adding an extra hurdle.

Ms Freeman said discussions are underway about in individual health boards, and that mobile units will be used in rural areas.

She added that two lessons have been learned from the flu vaccination programme - the need for as many locations as possible, and the need for the plan to be nationalised.

It will be a resounding success if every Scot is offered a vaccine next year, even if ‘Spring’ stretches a little longer than we may usually think of it.

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By taking the entirety of the programme into centralised hands Ms Freeman is hoping to achieve a better result than the flu campaign.

But she is also lining herself up to stand squarely in the firing line if these ambitious promises are not delivered.

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