Last week, it emerged that NHS Lothian has given coronavirus vaccinations to food bank volunteers – despite care home residents and staff still awaiting jags – because it says Scottish Government guidance on who should be prioritised is unclear.
Scotland’s vaccination rate is lower than England’s, and according to Public Health Scotland figures published last week, NHS Lothian is behind the rest of Scotland.
The health board has previously explained this is due to the Scottish government’s policy of vaccinating care home residents and staff first, as the capital has a high number of care homes compared to other public authority areas.
However, opposition MSPs have voiced their concerns after the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed that volunteers at food banks and other community organisations have been offered jabs –despite some care home residents and staff, and people aged over 80-years-old, still awaiting their vaccinations in Edinburgh.
Labour’s Daniel Johnson, MSP for Edinburgh Southern, said: “Clearly it is important that frontline workers are vaccinated but the health board really must get clarity from the Scottish government where they feel that there isn’t sufficient clarity.
“Furthermore, this just adds to the questions we have, both of the Scottish government vaccination programme and Lothian health board’s performance.
“We need much greater clarity about who we should be receiving vaccination and when, and when issues occur there needs to be much better explanations, both from the Scottish Government but also Lothian health board, whose inoculation rates are worrying in comparison to the rest of the country.”
Former Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson, MSP for Edinburgh Central, said: “People across Edinburgh are rightly worried about the low vaccination rate compared with other parts of Scotland.
“They will be more concerned still to hear that staff and volunteers at charities are being given the jab ahead of priority groups such as care home residents, NHS and social care workers, and the over 80s.
“Local health bosses are clear – the reason for the confusion is a lack of detailed guidance from the Scottish government.
“We all need this vaccine programme to work swiftly and efficiently.
“That means Nicola Sturgeon recognising problems when they occur and fixing them – not blithely pretending that everything is going to plan as vaccination rates lag further and further behind.
“The elderly and at-risk people across Edinburgh deserve better.”
Liberal Democrat Alex-Cole Hamilton, MSP for Edinburgh Western, added: “This is just the latest revelation in a string of concerning realities, around bureaucracy and red tape, which is leading to confusion and delay and is by extension slowing down the vaccine roll out.
“I’ve asked repeatedly whether key worker groups like teachers and the police can be prioritised once those with immediate risk to life are saved and I’m always told that they will just be done with the general population.
“To hear that food bank volunteers, as important as they are, might be prioritised ahead of those is frankly ludicrous.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: “We fully expect NHS Scotland health boards to work within the nationally agreed prioritisation schedule to manage the distribution of vaccine supplies, which remain limited at this time, to those on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation prioritisation list, which is very clear and includes patient-facing NHS and social care staff providing direct care.
“Guidance on JCVI prioritisation was provided to all boards in a letter from the Chief Medical Officer on December 4 and is additionally published in our vaccine deployment plan, and we expect any board which requires further clarification to seek that from the national vaccination team.”