Secrecy over vaccine supply from UK Government 'no longer tenable', Jeane Freeman says

It is “no longer tenable” for the UK Government to expect the Scottish Government to remain quiet on vaccine supply figures, health secretary Jeane Freeman has said.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman addresses MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, on the delivery of the coronavirus vaccine.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman addresses MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, on the delivery of the coronavirus vaccine.

The Scottish Government is due to begin regular publication of known supply figures from next week, following a row over their release.

A vaccine deployment plan containing details of supply expected in future was published by the Scottish Government earlier this month, but was quickly taken down following UK ministers’ concerns over ‘sensitive’ data.

It is understood the UK Government feared that other countries may put pressure on vaccine manufacturers to divert doses away from the UK if it became known how many have been delivered to the country but have not yet been used.

But it is “not credible” for the UK Government to brief details of this supply to the media, as officials have done in recent weeks, but expect the Scottish Government to withhold the information, Ms Freeman said in the Coronavirus daily briefing on Friday.

“The bottom line here is that the UK Government has repeatedly briefed key statistics on how much vaccine has been allocated and delivered to Scotland,” she said.

“So it’s not credible for them one day to tell journalists… what these figures are and another day tell us that putting out these figures is a matter of national security.

“That circle really doesn’t square.

“We’ve held off publication in the past at their request but that’s no longer tenable. So the public have a right to clarity and we will give them that.

“We’re not talking about future supplies, we’re talking about known supplies – and I think that’s exactly the right thing for us to do.”

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Ms Freeman was asked on Friday whether she had received any “panicked calls” from Westminster or any vaccine manufacturers about the plans to publish the data, to which she replied that she had not.

She added that she had discussed the move with officials across the four nations and had been supported by colleagues in Wales.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to publish the figures during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.

Asked about her statement during his visit to Scotland on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson raised “security” concerns over release of supply information.

“We’re working together as one to make sure the whole country is supplied,” he said.

“Of course we're in favour of the maximum possible transparency that is compatible with security of supply. That's the crucial thing – we have to have national security of supply.”

UK Government junior minister Lucy Frazer said on Friday that the UK Government will not be publishing vaccine supply information for “security reasons”.

Ms Frazer told BBC Breakfast: “The Government isn’t hiding anything at all. My understanding is that is for security reasons.

“But I think we’ve been incredibly transparent throughout since March, since the beginning of this pandemic, about how the Government is dealing with every aspect of the coronavirus.

“I think we have been extremely transparent, where it is appropriate to do so, to inform the public about how we are managing the pandemic.”

Pressed on what she meant by “security reason”, the junior minister replied: “That is the information that I have received.”

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