Analysis: Scotland's Covid vaccine programme, six months on

Six months ago today the first Covid vaccines were given in Scotland, to huge excitement that they marked the beginning of the end of this brutal pandemic.

The vaccines have directly enabled the recent easing of restrictions, and will hopefully continue to do so, but they came much slower than many initially hoped.

The Scottish Government’s first plan was to vaccinate one million people by the end of January. It soon became clear this would not be possible, due to lower than expected supply stocks.

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But the rollout gathered pace until mid February, by which time one million people had been given a first dose, before being beset by a series of supply problems.

Deputy charge nurse Katie McIntosh giving Clinical Lead of Outpatient Theatres Andrew Mencnarowski, a Covid vaccine at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, on December 8.
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The rate never picked back up to what it was in mid February, at a peak of 392,000 doses in one week.

But it has accelerated, and last week just over 342,000 jags were given.

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The initial target of giving all adults a first dose by the end of Spring, set by former health secretary Jeane Freeman, was revised to the more realistic aim of all over 50s by mid April.

The Scottish Government insisted this target was met, despite protestations from some of the thousands of people over 50 who had not yet been given a dose.

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Now 93 per cent of those over 50 have had a first dose, along with 86 per cent of over 40s.

Almost all over 60s have had both doses, which, along with some other groups including health workers, accounts for more than half the population.

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At this rate, the Scottish Government will comfortably hit its revised target of offering all adults a dose by the end of July.

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There have been calls to speed up the process, especially as England will allow all over 25s to book their vaccines from Tuesday.

Wales, which has steamed ahead of other UK nations, aims to give a vaccine appointment to all over 18s by next Monday.

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More than 86 per cent of adults have been given a dose in Wales, compared to 76 per cent in Scotland

However, while Scotland’s vaccine rollout has been slower than expected, that is because the initial targets, and the comparisons made, are all hugely ambitious - as they should be, with so much at stake.

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The rollout has been a triumph over everyone involved in it, and is one of the fastest in the world.

The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children aged 12 and over, and it is likely we will see vaccination of children in Scotland before too long, as well as a round of booster jags in the Autumn.

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The next challenge will be to do what we can to help vaccinate those in developing countries, which have had shockingly few doses so far. Across Africa, around two per cent of the population has had a first dose.

It is often said in the context of Covid vaccines that “no-one is safe until everyone is safe”, as if other countries have very low levels of vaccination then that risks spread to Scotland, or the development of new variants, some of which may have more resistance to our current vaccines.

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It's also just the right thing to do.

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