Wales is not “lagging behind” the rest of the UK in terms of the number of people receiving the coronavirus vaccine, Mark Drakeford has said.
The Welsh First Minister insisted the country was in “broadly the same place” as other parts of the UK while building up its ability to deliver the vaccine to more people.
Mr Drakeford told Sky News on Friday morning that his Covid-19 vaccination rollout was “not a sprint and neither is it a competition” when asked why Wales had so far vaccinated just 1.6% of its population – 49,428 people – compared to 1.9% in England and 2.1% in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.
At the day’s press briefing the Welsh Labour leader again faced questions about the speed of the rollout to which he denied there was any problem.
Mr Drakeford said: “We are talking about fractions of one decimal point here. It is not the case that Wales is somehow far adrift from the rest of the United Kingdom, we are all in a bunch.”
He said the Welsh Government had a “very committed and purposeful plan to make sure that we make the maximum use of every drop of vaccination supply that comes to us here in Wales.”
Mr Drakeford added: “We are building it up already, we will build it up further next week, thousands of people are being vaccinated in Wales today.
“That is the real story that people in Wales need to know about – the determination and commitment of the NHS here in Wales to use every bit of vaccine that we have, that the plans are in place to do that, and that we will build things up from these first weeks to make sure that we maximise our ability to deliver this very important programme to people in Wales.”
The First Minister welcomed the news that the Moderna vaccine had become the third to be approved for use in the UK, and will become available in the spring, saying it represented “a step forward for us”.
But he said it would not act as a “magic wand” against the virus, and that the date Wales was finally free of Covid would depend on “the speed in which those supplies become available, against the speed of which the new variant of coronavirus is spreading.”
Wales is receiving its share of vaccines which are procured by the UK Government based on its population size, as are the rest of the home nations, with 25,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine expected to be available to Wales at the start of next week and 80,000 doses the following week.
But Mr Drakeford said it was not currently known how many doses of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines Wales would receive after that time, with work ongoing at UK Government level to give a reliable figure.
He said it meant the Welsh Government was currently unable to set targets for how many people should be vaccinated within certain time periods.
Mr Drakeford said he shared “the same ambition” as Boris Johnson to give first doses to their country’s top four priority groups by mid February, but said that would depend on having to “accelerate” the rollout as well as purchase and distribution by Westminster.
“I am confident that we will have confirmation of that volume as it becomes known and that we will get our fair share of it,” Mr Drakeford said.
He said Wales would have 250 GP practices administering vaccines by the end of January as well as the number of vaccination centres rising to 35, and currently had 14 army vaccinators and 70 army personnel helping with the work, as well as 14 mobile vaccine units.
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Mr Drakeford also confirmed Wales’s lockdown restrictions will be further strengthened in supermarkets, workplaces and schools and colleges in an effort to limit the spread of the Covid-19 variant.
He said the faster spreading strain is “adding a dangerous dimension to the pandemic” and means the nationwide lockdown will continue for at least another three weeks.
Mr Drakeford said on Friday that Wales’s level four measures will need to be reinforced in three areas including in essential shops so they offer a level of protection “as in the early days of the pandemic”.
Measures will also be strengthened in workplaces as well as schools and colleges, with the decision on when to reopen them brought into line with the country’s three-week review cycle.
On Friday Public Health Wales said there were a further 2,487 cases of coronavirus in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 165,721.
It reported another 56 deaths, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 3,857.