Nicola Sturgeon: No issue more important than efficient vaccine rollout

No issue is more important than making sure Scotland’s coronavirus vaccination programme is rolled out successfully, Nicola Sturgeon has told MSPs.

The First Minister said both she and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman are focused on the programme, along with the “entire Government”.

The first coronavirus vaccinations in Scotland are due to be administered next Tuesday.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed Scotland should receive 65,500 doses of the newly-approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine before the rollout begins.

Talks are ongoing about whether supplies of the vaccine will be able to be taken into care homes, but the First Minister said she hopes that “will become possible very soon”.

Difficulties have arisen because the vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-low temperatures, and the Scottish Government has purchased 23 special freezers which provide the correct conditions.

The freezers will be placed in “vaccine deployment centres” in every health board area in Scotland, and Ms Sturgeon said the first vaccinations will take place in “close” proximity to these sites.

Elderly care home residents are among the highest priority groups to have the vaccine, and the First Minister said she hopes difficulties around getting the injections to them can be resolved.

She was pressed on the issue by Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.

Ms Davidson said: “Care home residents and their families have suffered enough through this pandemic and the possibility that promised vaccines could be delayed is yet another blow.

“What now is the plan for Scotland’s care home residents, who were promised they would be the first in the queue to receive this vaccine?”

The First Minister said further “clarity” on whether the vaccine can be taken to care homes is needed from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – the body which approved it for use in the UK.

Ms Sturgeon added: “Even although this may not be possible for this vaccine to be moved to care homes immediately, I remain hopeful based on the discussions that have happened to date that that will become possible at an early stage after we start receiving those supplies.

“What is absolutely beyond any question is that the safe delivery of this vaccine is the absolute priority and it is in all of our interests to make sure, in line with the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations) advice we have received, that elderly care home residents get vaccinated just as quickly as is possible.”

Ms Sturgeon also revealed that a further 51 deaths from coronavirus and 958 more positive cases have been recorded in Scotland in the past 24 hours.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

She stressed: “There is no issue more important to this Government right now than making sure this vaccination programme works effectively and efficiently, that as soon as we have supplies of vaccine they are used to vaccinate people in the order of priority.

“The focus of me, the Health Secretary and the entire Government is on making sure all the appropriate steps are taken.”

She added vaccine doses will be used “as soon as they become available” and “as closely as possible in line with the order of prioritisation that the JCVI have set out”.

Ms Sturgeon continued: “If for the first period it is difficult to get the vaccine to care homes, obviously we will use these supplies for NHS and staff who work in care homes.”

She said the first doses will be given to people “close to these vaccine deployment centres”, saying this will “ensure we can make maximum use of the first supplies of the vaccine we get”.

With other vaccines also due to be approved, Ms Sturgeon said the Government is “also exploring a number of options around larger vaccination centres”.

She added: “These venues will come on stream later once we have supplies in sufficient quantities to support the establishment of these larger centres.”