Wales is seeing a “significant step-up” of its rollout of coronavirus vaccinations – with 700,000 people expected to be given a jab by mid-February, the country’s health minister has said.
Vaughan Gething admitted the Welsh vaccine programme had so far been slower than elsewhere in the UK, but pointed to a more than doubling of the number of doses administered in the past week as evidence of improvement.
The Welsh Government has faced criticism in the past weeks for vaccinating fewer people in proportion to its population than the other home nations.
The number of people having received their first dose in Wales stood at 86,039 as of Sunday evening, amounting to around 2.7% of the population.
At Monday’s government press briefing, Mr Gething admitted that the rest of the UK “have gone slightly faster than we have”, but said the latest vaccinations figures showed a “significant acceleration” in the rollout.
He said: “The significant step-up and delivery that I described is already taking place as evidenced by the figures, and you’ll continue to see in the daily figures the increasing delivery of the vaccination programme.
“I think that will give people confidence.”
On Monday, the Welsh Government published its Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy, which said all care home residents and staff, frontline health and social care staff, everyone aged over 70, and the clinically vulnerable will be offered vaccination by the middle of next month.
It also said everyone aged over 50 and those at risk due to underlying health conditions would be offered a jab by the spring.
All eligible adults will be offered a Covid vaccine by the autumn.
This is the biggest vaccination programme Wales has ever seen. In total, 2.5m adults could be offered the vaccine between May-September.
— Welsh Government #StayHome🏠 (@WelshGovernment) January 11, 2021
Mr Gething said he understood why some GPs in Wales have been “frustrated” about a perceived lack of supplies of the vaccine to their surgeries, but that the supplies were dependent on the amount being allocated to Wales on a week-to-week basis by the UK Government.
Despite the admission that Wales has been slower in its rollout, organisers of the vaccine programme within Public Health Wales are said to be frustrated by the focus on what they see as only small differences between UK countries’ figures and that doing so is demoralising NHS staff.
Mr Gething said Wales was in a “race” against the virus, but defended First Minister Mark Drakeford’s comments last week that the country was not in a “sprint” to vaccinate as many people as possible.
He said: “I think that there’s a risk of getting too lost in a marathon or a sprint. The reason why we’re talking of this being a marathon is it’ll take months to get through this.”
Mr Gething also reiterated that the “clear advice” received from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) was that extending the amount of time between doses to vaccinate more people “will avoid more deaths”.
The latest figures show out of the 86,039 people in Wales who have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, 79 people have so far received a second.
The Welsh Government said that in total, around 2.5 million people could be offered Covid-19 vaccines by September, depending on further advice by the (JCVI).
A spokesman said the strategy depends on “sufficient and regular supplies” of the vaccines being delivered and will be kept under review in line with supply of the vaccine and JCVI advice.
Over the coming weeks, the number of mass vaccination centres in Wales will increase to 35 – with at least one in each county.
There is military support in mass vaccination centres, with 14 immunisers and 70 other personnel providing support.
In total, 100 GP practices will provide vaccine clinics by the end of this week.
The first pharmacies to provide the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will start vaccinating in North Wales in the next week.
There are 14 mobile units, run by community nurses, taking the vaccine to care homes.
People will also receive text messages to remind them of vaccination appointments.
Andrew RT Davies, shadow health minister for the Welsh Conservatives, called on the Welsh Government to appoint a vaccination minister for the country, accusing it of delivering a “stuttering start” to its programme.
He told BBC Wales: “If you have a dedicated vaccination minister, that individual will be responsible for driving this right across Wales, because we’ve seen week after week now that we’ve been lagging behind other parts of the United Kingdom.
Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru, said he hoped there would now be “sufficient urgency” from the Welsh Government in terms of delivering the vaccine.
“I think we do need a greater sense of urgency from the Welsh Government because the one thing we didn’t hear today in terms of targets is when are they going to close that gap that they’ve admitted to between Wales – in terms of the level of vaccination – and the rest of the other nations in the UK.”