Coronavirus in Scotland: Vaccination rollout may slow in coming weeks as supply dips, Nicola Sturgeon warns

Scotland’s Covid-19 vaccination programme may slow down temporarily in coming weeks due to an expected UK-wide drop in supply, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned.

The First Minister said the country remains on track to vaccinate everyone over 50 and those with underlying conditions by the start of May, but that a balance may need to be struck between first and second doses due to the temporary reduction in supply.

"We expect, over the second part of February, our supplies coming into Scotland to slightly dip for a period, and that will be a UK-wide issue,” she said in the coronavirus briefing on Tuesday.

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“We’ll have to think about the balance of doses that we have available that go to second doses versus the additional people we want to give first doses to.”

A St Andrews First Aider chats with (left to right) James Logan, Sylvia Campbell and Michael Maddocks as they sit in a waiting area after receiving an injection of a coronavirus vaccine from the millitary who are assisting with the vaccination programme at the Royal Highland Showground near Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday February 4, 2021.

Ms Sturgeon said once all Scots over 70 and people with a serious clinical vulnerability are vaccinated by mid-February, the Scottish Government would have to think about “conserving supplies” for second doses.

Supplies of vaccine delivered from Pfizer to the UK are expected to dip in late this month to allow Pfizer to maintain its delivery schedule, national clinical director Jason Leitch said.

He said the supply dip would allow Scotland to maintain its target of vaccination for all over-50s by May, but meant “we have to think about what that looks like for second doses of Pfizer”.

"The vaccine deployment plan is on track, it’s what we said would happen,” he said.

“It gets less reliable as you move out because Pfizer tells us they need to close their factory in order to create more supply.”

Prof Leitch said Pfizer had said it would deliver the supply ordered, but that it would arrive later than planned.

“That allows us to stick with the summer, but it means we have to think about what that looks like for second doses of Pfizer, and the other companies on the way in,” he said.

“We also don’t know what other companies we’ll have by May or June. We’re hoping for Moderna, we’re hoping for others to come on track, but there are more variables as we move out.

Prof Leitch said the Scottish Government needed some “scope for margins of error” around future targets.

Details of expected supply of Covid-19 vaccine to Scotland released during a first draft of Scotland’s vaccine deployment plan released in January predicted a drop of around two-thirds between the number of doses delivered in the second and third weeks in February.

This supply data was later deleted by the Scottish Government, citing pressure from the UK Government over “sensitive” commercial supply issues.

It comes as first doses in Scotland approach one million after the highest single day total on record. Some 928,122 people had received a first dose as of Tuesday morning, an increase of more than 61,000 since the previous day.

However, total vaccinations on Tuesday are set to be significantly lower, after a day of heavy snow caused disruption to the rollout.

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Ms Sturgeon said there had been no reports of vaccination centres being unable to open on Tuesday morning due to the snow. But she told Scots to reschedule their vaccination appointment if they were not able to leave the house due to the conditions, adding these appointments would be rescheduled "as soon as possible".

NHS Lothian opened up vaccination at the Royal Highland Showground to staff eligible for a second dose of Pfizer vaccine after a number of people booked into appointments were unable to turn up.

The First Minister apologised to elderly Fifers who had been left queuing outside in the cold for vaccines on Monday after a computer glitch led to 7,000 incorrectly scheduled appointments across several days.

Five centres were so oversubscribed on Monday that some people were left queuing in the cold for several hours without receiving a vaccine.

The issue was caused by NHS Fife moving its vaccine booking system to the Scotland-wide National Schedule Tool.

Ms Sturgeon said she understood patients would feel “annoyed” by the problems, but urged people to “just bear in mind how hard health boards are working right now to get this programme delivered as quickly as possible”.

She added: “These teams out there are performing a monumental task right now and they’re doing it really well.

“So if things go wrong on any given day – as I’m afraid, from time to time, they might – we are sorry about that, but we are trying to do this as quickly, as fast and as efficiently as we possibly can.”

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said in a letter to Fife MSPs and MPs on Tuesday the incident was “unacceptable” and “far below her expectations” of the vaccination programme.

North East Fife Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain said: “The government have had more than enough time to prepare for the vaccine roll out.

“It is right that the Cabinet secretary has now apologised, but this was entirely avoidable. Many of my constituents, elderly and vulnerable, were left outside in the cold waiting for the vaccine for a respiratory virus. This is simply unacceptable.

“The country's patience for a slow and troublesome vaccine roll-out is wearing thin and the government must get a grasp of this, not with small fixes, but system change to ensure these mistakes don't happen again.”

NHS Fife chief executive Carol Potter apologised for the “unacceptable” waits faced by some people in Fife.

She said the health board decided not to cancel overbooked appointments on Tuesday and Wednesday, instead increasing staffing levels.

This is expected to result in an extra 4,000 vaccinations in Fife this week.

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