Downing Street ‘confident’ of vaccine supply as Scotland to scale back rollout

PA Reporters

Downing Street said it has confidence over vaccine supply and hitting its priority groups target after the Scottish Government said it would be scaling back its vaccination programme as jab supplies to the UK dip.

Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said there will be a drop in vaccine supply across all four nations of the UK, caused by work being carried out by Pfizer – the manufacturer of one of the approved coronavirus vaccines.

She said Scotland should hit its target of vaccinating 400,000 adults a week ahead of schedule this week, but the programme will then “need to scale back a bit”.

Pfizer is having to temporarily reduce output as part of an overall effort to increase manufacturing capacity amid worldwide demand for vaccines.

Meanwhile, a planned for reduction in coronavirus vaccine supply is expected in Wales in the next few weeks, First Minister Mark Drakeford said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Thursday: “We’re confident of our vaccine supply and we’re confident that we can hit our target of vaccinating all those top four groups by Monday.

“And from then on, continuing down the prioritisation list and continuing to provide large numbers of vaccines every day to those who are further down that phase one list.

“We are confident of supplies but we haven’t commented on details of delivery schedules or movements of the vaccines.”

It is understood some mass vaccination centres in Wales are expected to reduce their operating hours in response to a planned dip in supply.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who represents the Rhondda constituency, said two mass vaccination centres in Wales were closing amid a short-term reduction in vaccine supply.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he claimed the target of vaccinating the first four priority groups will be reached, but then “there will be a hiatus of two or three weeks when the supply of vaccine both Pfizer and Astra Zeneca will be dramatically reduced.”

He claimed his local Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board will drop from having 24,000 doses a week of the Astra Zeneca jab to 8,000 doses from Monday.

Mr Bryant said the mass vaccination centre at Merthyr Tydfil closed on Wednesday, while the centre at Ystrad was due to close at “close of play” on Friday.

He said there was expected to be an “uplift” in vaccine supply in Wales from March 1.

Mr Drakeford told a Welsh Parliament committee on Thursday that one of the “challenges” of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Wales was supply.

He said: “We know that we are going to get less vaccine over the next few weeks than we have over the past few weeks but that was planned for and known for and is accommodated in our plans, which remain to complete the vaccination of those next five priority groups by the spring.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman from Northern Ireland’s Department of Health said: “We are not aware of any Pfizer supply issues and are continuing to work through the priority groups as planned.”

It was revealed last month that the UK was set to face short-term delays in delivery of the Pfizer jab as the pharmaceutical company upgraded its production capacity.

Pfizer is upscaling production at its plant in Puurs, Belgium, in efforts to produce more doses than originally planned for 2021 – temporarily reducing deliveries to all European countries.

Shipments of the vaccine to the UK were set to be affected in January, with the US firm saying the overall number of doses due to be delivered between January and March remained the same.

The UK has secured 40 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday that in the “second part of February”, it is expected vaccine supplies will “slightly dip for a period”.

Ms Freeman told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Thursday: “This is about the supply into the UK, it is not about distribution around the UK. So it will affect all four nations of the UK.

“That will reduce our expected supply next week and the week after by about somewhere between 120,000 and 190,000 doses a week overall over the two vaccines.

“And what that means then is we need to scale back on the pace we have reached this week – we will reach over 400,000 doses this week, which is a couple of weeks earlier than we said we would. But we will need to scale back a bit.

“We are working that through and then of course supplies start coming in again.”

She stressed the Scottish Government is “still confident” it will meet targets set for vaccinating all those aged over 70 by Monday, as well as the goal of vaccinating those aged 65 and above by early March.

Ms Freeman later spoke to MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 Committee, where she provided more details on the expected drop in supply.

She said: “To manage this reduced supply, from next week, we will need to reduce the numbers of vaccinations to between 150,000 and 200,000 until supply increases, which we hope will be very soon.”

Caroline Lamb, chief executive of NHS Scotland, also told the committee that a further “dip” is expected towards the end of March.

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