Demands to prioritise booster jabs for teachers as experts say rollout 'likely'

Teachers should be among the first to receive booster jabs should the Scottish Government decide to roll out third doses, opposition politicians say, as cases continue to soar.

Scottish Labour are urging the Scottish Government to prioritise teachers for booster jabs.

The call comes as Scotland recorded another record number of new coronavirus cases, with 7,113 people testing positive for the first time. It is the third time in a week the record for new infections has been broken, as Humza Yousaf warned the NHS is facing a “perfect storm”.

The health secretary also warned people not to ring 999 unless it is “absolutely critical” as the ambulance service and accident and emergency strain under the pressure of Covid-19.

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New cases have more than doubled in a week, although the figure released on Sunday includes some tests taken more than 48 hours ago due to backlog and delays in the testing system.

Officials are awaiting advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation as to whether scientists will approve the rollout of third doses of the vaccine.

Interim advice to the government is that booster jabs can be administered from September alongside the annual flu vaccine programme.

However, Scottish Labour urged the government to prioritise teachers should a wider booster programme be approved.

The party’s education spokesperson Michael Marra said it made “little sense” to see school staff vaccinated against flu, but not receive a Covid-19 booster.

He said: “Staff and pupil safety must be the absolute priority. It makes little sense to prioritise school staff for the winter flu jab, but not the COVID booster.

“As the decision looms, the Scottish Government must act. All through the pandemic they have been to slow to make decisions in the interests of safety and the continuity of learning.

“The attainment impact of school closures has been immense, and there is no recognition from the Government of the scale of the challenge, far less a plan to deal with it.”

Speaking yesterday, Professor Linda Bauld said she would be surprised if a booster campaign did not begin soon.

The professor of public health at Edinburgh University said she expected an update from the JCVI “very soon” and that such a campaign would likely focus on those with a weakened immune system.

She said: “Internationally, the US is starting theirs in a couple of weeks, Israel already well advanced.

"Evidence from Israel suggests that one part of how we measure immunity was certainly waning in older groups after five or six months post second dose.

"If I had to say what I think the JCVI might prioritise, people who are immuno-compromised or immunosuppressed, very clear from the studies that many of them don’t have such a good response to both doses, they are probably top of the list.

"Those groups that are treating patients and caring for people but also just the much more elderly may be in that bracket.

"It is still a debate but I would be surprised if we didn’t initiate a booster campaign soon.”

Reacting to the calls for booster jabs for teachers, a Scottish Government spokesperson said it would follow the advice provided by the JCVI.

He said: “The safety of school pupils and staff has been a top priority throughout the pandemic, as has keeping children and young people in schools wherever it is safe to do so.

"We recently published detailed updated guidance, informed by expert advice, to help ensure that as schools return they remain low risk environments for infection and transmission of the virus.

“We are currently planning for the booster programme using the interim advice from the JCVI, but these plans will be updated once we have final advice from this independent clinical group.”

The comments came among warnings Scotland could see 14,000 cases per day by the end of the week.

In July, health secretary Humza Yousaf said the Scottish Government “wouldn’t want to tolerate” around 8,200 cases per day when asked about the UK Government’s advice that the country could see 100,000 cases UK-wide after ‘Freedom Day’.

At the time, Mr Yousaf said such high case numbers would still cause “pressure” on NHS Scotland.

Speaking on Sunday, the health secretary said the NHS was facing a “perfect storm”.

He said: "What you are seeing in many local health board areas is that the A&E departments are almost at pre-Covid levels - and in some areas, above pre-Covid levels.

"Add to that, just shy of 500 Covid patients across the country. And, of course, we've still got infection prevention control measures in place.

"We've also had staff absence through illness and some taking annual leave, understandably.

"All of that is a real perfect storm putting enormous pressure on our health service."

Mr Yousaf added that it was vital Scots only called 999 if it is “absolutely critical” as he defended the straining accident and emergency departments across Scotland.

He said: "The NHS is absolutely and utterly interconnected. If you are having problems within the A&E department, that's a whole-systems problem, so the demand on the ambulance service is huge.

"But, of course, if the ambulance gets to a hospital which is under severe pressure, then discharging someone from an ambulance and getting them seen also takes time.

"That then affects the ambulance going back out to recover another patient.

"So that's why we're asking people, only to call 999 and only request an ambulance if it is absolutely critical."

Professor Bauld added that the intention of the Scottish Government’s strategy was to make Covid-19 “endemic”, adding that it is likely the virus will always make some people ill.

She said: "What we need to do is continue to push down against it, revaccinate if we need to and suppress transmission and illness.

"At the moment with this still easing up and the changes that have occurred, we are still in a fragile situation.

"Hopefully, although I’m concerned about universities returning, the next few weeks we will get over these really really high numbers.”

As of Sunday, the number of patients in hospital with recently confirmed coronavirus infections has also risen for the ninth consecutive day, reaching 507, with 52 in intensive care.

A further 17,655 vaccinations were carried out in the past 24 hours.

Of those, 3,233 were first doses and 14,422 were second doses, taking the totals to 4,101,311 and 3,655,287 respectively.

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