Coronavirus in Scotland: Armed forces to give Covid-19 vaccine in Scotland for first time

Members of the armed forces are to administer Covid-19 vaccine doses in Scotland for the first time from Thursday in an effort to ramp up the nation’s vaccination rollout.

Members of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard carry out a reconnaissance before setting up a Covid–19 vaccination centre at the Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility in Motherwell, Lanarkhire. Picture date: Monday January 18, 2021.
Members of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard carry out a reconnaissance before setting up a Covid–19 vaccination centre at the Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility in Motherwell, Lanarkhire. Picture date: Monday January 18, 2021.

It comes after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday to offer “any support or assistance we can give you” from the UK Government to the Scottish Government.

Ms Sturgeon insisted Scotland’s vaccination rollout was going well, when asked about it at First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

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In response to questions about Mr Jack’s offer, she told MSPs: “Any help that the armed forces give to Scotland… it’s not a favour from the Secretary of State for Scotland – it’s our armed forces that the people of Scotland pay for through their taxes.”

“So let’s forget the suggestion that it’s somehow the UK Government doing Scotland a favour.”

Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson called the news of military support for Scotland’s vaccination programme “fantastic news”.

"That’s exactly the kind of shot in the arm the programme needs and it will go a long way to restoring confidence across the country,” she said.

“We always knew the number of vaccinations would rise when mass centres opened and we’re all delighted to see that’s finally happening.”

By the end of Tuesday 649,262 people in Scotland had been given a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, Ms Sturgeon announced, with 38,484 of them on Tuesday alone, the highest daily total so far and a 59 per cent increase on the same day last week.

The increased rate is attributed to mass vaccination centres opening in Aberdeen and Edinburgh on Monday. These have capacity to administer 20,000 doses a week, but Ms Sturgeon did not give dates for when these capacities are expected to be reached, when asked about it at FMQs.

A further 81 military personnel will be deployed to Scotland to work on the rollout from Thursday, bringing the total number of those involved – primarily from the Army – to over 200.

Military medics will be charged with administering vaccines for the first time in Scotland, a practice which is already in place in England.

Teams will be in action from Thursday at the Royal Highland Showground in NHS Lothian.

Other vaccinators will be deployed to health boards around the country, with five teams of 10 medics and management staff forming a “Vaccine Quick Reaction Force”, able to deploy around the country at short notice.

Up to 24 logistic support staff, mostly from Edinburgh-based 3rd Battalion The Rifles, will assist health boards in the running of vaccination centres in NHS Lothian as well as Grampian, Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders.

There are already 98 members of the Fife-based Royal Scots Dragoon Guards assigned to Scotland’s vaccination programme, tasked with setting up 80 centres around the country.

They are currently working on sites at the Lagoon Centre in Paisley Donald Dewar Sports Centre in Drumchapel and Castlemilk Sports Centre in Glasgow.

All the centres will be handed over to NHS Scotland when up and running.

Some 32 planning and support personnel are assisting the Scottish Government and local health boards.

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Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “The British Armed Forces are carrying out vital work to support the rollout of vaccines across Scotland. Now more than 200 military personnel are helping to get needles into arms. I would like to thank all of our fantastic military personnel for their great work in helping fight the pandemic, right across the UK.”

The Royal Highland Centre (RHS) in NHS Lothian opened its doors as a mass vaccination centre on Wednesday, joining the Edinburgh International Conference Centre and Strathbrock Partnership Centre in Broxburn, West Lothian.

The RHS was staffed by NHS Lothian on Wednesday but from Thursday will be taken over by the armed forces for two weeks while NHS Lothian carry out staff training and induction.

David Small, Director of Primary Care Transformation and executive lead for the vaccination programme, NHS Lothian, said: “It is very exciting to see a new mass vaccination centre open, especially one that is being supported by our colleagues from the British armed forces.

“The swift opening of this venue will allow us to increase our capacity across the Lothians and allow us to start vaccinating 65-69-year-olds sooner than we expected."

This is the first of two vaccination centres planned for the Royal Highland Centre. A second larger centre is expected to become operational in March.

People aged between 75-79 and those most clinically vulnerable will continue to be given appointments to be vaccinated by their GP, while those aged between 70-74 and 65 to 69 are being invited into these mass vaccination sites and smaller community venues for their injections.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie warned of a “postcode lottery” in the vaccination rollout.

After outlining cases brought to her attention of people not being told when they will receive their first dose, she told the First Minister: “These examples aren’t a one-off but they are part of a growing postcode lottery in vaccine rollout, and it’s slowing Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19.

“The weekly Public Health Scotland figures show a huge variation across the country in the proportion of the population receiving the vaccine.”

But Ms Sturgeon said: “People are not being penalised because of where they live.

“There will be differences in speed because of geographies, because of how different health boards are organising this to take account of the differences between urban areas and rural areas, the different sizes of communities, but all health boards are making progress.”

Figures released by Public Health Scotland on Wednesday show NHS Lothian has vaccinated the smallest percentage of the population, at 10.6 per cent, closely followed by Fife at 11.06 per cent.

The Western Isles has given a first dose to 18.8 per cent of the population, and NHS Highland to 16.59 per cent.

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