Covid-19 vaccine issues 'smoothing out', Sturgeon says after rollout slows

Issues in the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in Scotland are being “smoothed out”, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said, after a week of repeated complaints from GPs of not being delivered doses quickly enough.
Nurse Eleanor Pinkerton administers a coronavirus vaccine to one of the health and social care staff at the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow on January 23.Nurse Eleanor Pinkerton administers a coronavirus vaccine to one of the health and social care staff at the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow on January 23.
Nurse Eleanor Pinkerton administers a coronavirus vaccine to one of the health and social care staff at the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow on January 23.

It comes as the number of people given a first dose in Scotland reached over 400,000 for the first time, and the Scottish Government told those in the 70 to 79 age group to look out for blue envelopes through the letterbox from Monday advising them of a vaccination appointment.

A total of 404,038 people in Scotland have now received a first dose of the vaccine, along with 5,529,101 people in England.

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But the daily rate of jabs has slowed, in what opposition leaders called a “major concern”.

A peak of 25,327 fist doses given on Tuesday last week dropped to 24,962 on Wednesday, 23,583 on Thursday and 22,213 on Friday. The figure rose slightly to 23,371 on Saturday.

The British Medical Association in Scotland complained several times last week of “patchy” supply, with Chair of the GP’s committee Dr Andrew Buist calling for doctors to be given the power to order doses themselves rather than going through health boards in a bid to streamline the process.

On Friday Dr Buist said Scotland had “upped its game” during the week, and that vaccination is a “long-distance race” rather than a sprint.

The First Minister said on Sunday that issues around “patchy” supply raised by the BMA are “smoothing out” and “starting to be resolved”.

She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: "We have have had the rate limitation of the number of packs coming into Scotland which has limited supply to GPs.

“On this question of whether there is a more bureaucratic system in Scotland, I don’t think that’s the case, although we will always look to see what we can do to simplify that.

"Our health boards order the supplies and then allocate on to GPs, in England that’s done through clinical commissioning groups.”

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Ms Sturgeon said the slower rate in Scotland has been due to a focus on care homes, which are more labour intensive. Some 95 per cent of care home residents in Scotland have been given a first dose, she said, compared to around 75 per cent in England.

“We took a deliberate decision in line with JCVI advice to focus initially on vaccinating older residents if care homes, because that is going to have the most immediate and biggest impact on reducing the death toll,” she said.

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She added: “It takes longer, it’s more resource-intensive to do care homes, but it’s the right decision in my view.

"We are now rapidly catching up on the over-80s in the community, we’ve done around 40 per cent of those, and that’s gathering pace every single day.”

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government is “well on track” to deliver a first dose to all over 80s in Scotland by the beginning of February.

“We’re all working to the same targets, overall I think we will see that we all are making good progress through this vaccination programme, but I think it is right to focus on protecting the most vulnerable to serious illness and death as early as possible in the programme,” she added.

Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron Shadow Health Secretary Donald Cameron MSP said the drop in daily rates from the beginning to the end of last week is of “major concern” in Scotland.

“The SNP Government needs to sort out this mess – they have hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses waiting to go but are not getting them out, and even medical professionals are getting anxious and frustrated about the situation,” he said.

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Those aged 70 to 79 in Scotland have been urged to look out for blue envelopes delivered by Royal Mail containing details of their vaccination appointment.

The over 80s have so far been contacted mostly by telephone to arrange appointments.

If current targets are met, vaccination of the 70-79 age group should begin in the second week in February.

Blue envelopes will start to arrive in letterboxes in Greater Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Lothian from Monday, the Scottish Government said.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman urged people not to ignore the “distinctive” envelopes, and for all eligible Scots to take up the offer of vaccination.

CEO of Scottish Care Donald Macaskill called on Sunday for an end to comparisons of vaccination figures, in reference to the Andrew Marr show.

"What matters is the one target – maximum protection for the most vulnerable,” he said.

"That’s why care homes are a priority. It takes a lot longer to vaccinate in a care home due to infirmity, frailty and dementia distress.”

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He added: “What is equally important is getting to the final first/second dose evidence. I hope families, residents and workers will get the second dose as quickly as possible without detriment to those others over 80.”

The British Medical Association has urged the four nations to rethink a delay of the Pfizer jab’s second dose from three to four weeks after the first dose to eight to twelve weeks later.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said on Sunday there is “no real evidence” that a second dose of the Pfizer jab is more effective.

He told Sky News: “Hopefully not only will this strategy get more people immunised and protect the vulnerable elderly and save thousands and thousands of lives, it may in the end give protection to the population as a whole.”

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