NHS Shetland has offered more information about the roll-out of the national Covid-19 vaccination programme which is expected to start in December.
The health board said on Tuesday that the exact date is dependent on a numbers of issues including the vaccines being licensed and when they are supplied to Shetland.
The first groups of people to be offered the vaccination will include health care workers, care home workers, care home residents and people aged 80 and over.
It is expected that next year the programme will then extend to people aged over 65 and those in clinical risk groups, similar to the flu vaccination programme.
Eventually the vaccine will be offered to the whole population once the higher risk groups have been vaccinated.
Consultant in public health medicine Dr Susan Laidlaw said: “The delivery of the programme, at least in this first phase, will be similar to how we deliver flu vaccination. Staff will be vaccinated by the occupational health team in clinics or in their workplace.
“People aged over 80 will be invited to their GP practice, and some may need to be vaccinated at home.
“Care home residents will be vaccinated in the care home. As more vaccine becomes available and other groups are invited, then a different model of larger clinics may be used.”
Dr Laidlaw there are a “number of practical issues” before the roll-out can take place in Shetland. This includes transportation and storage.
“For example one of the vaccines we will be receiving in Scotland needs to be stored in a freezer at -70C,” she said.
“As with all new vaccination programmes, the vaccine will not all arrive at once, but over several weeks and months.
“Currently we are planning to give two doses of the vaccine, about a month apart, but we do not yet know if this will become an annual vaccine like flu.”
Initially, the vaccinations will be given by experienced teams who have been delivering the seasonal flu vaccination programme.
As the numbers increase next year, new staff may be brought in and existing staff redeployed to support the programme delivery. A training programme for all staff involved in the programme is being developed.
Dr Laidlaw said: “Vaccination against Covid-19 is a huge step forward in tackling the pandemic and I would hope that during next year we will see some significant changes in the restrictions that we are currently living with.
“No vaccine is 100 per cent effective, but if enough people are vaccinated then the spread of the virus will be considerably reduced if not stopped.
“Although clearly it is a personal choice about whether to be vaccinated or not, I would strongly urge anyone who is offered the vaccine to take up the offer.
“However, whilst everyone involved is working as hard as they can to get the vaccination programme underway, we do not yet have any specific dates for the programme starting and when different priority groups will be vaccinated.
“Please do not phone your GP practice to ask about the vaccine until you have been invited to arrange an appointment. Most people will not offered the vaccine until next year.”
It is not yet clear how the vaccination programme will affect current restrictions, testing programmes, the contact tracing process and requirements for isolation.
NHS Shetland said the effectiveness of the vaccination programme will be carefully monitored at a national level before such decisions can be made.
“Although this is a light at the end of the tunnel, we still have a way to go yet, so please continue to follow all the guidance about social distancing, face coverings, hand washing, avoiding crowds and of course isolating and booking a test if you develop symptoms,” Dr Laidlaw said.
“We are lucky enough to be in level one and so have far fewer restrictions than other parts of Scotland, and the UK.
“But please continue to stick to the rules, especially about travel. Travel in and out of Shetland should be avoided as much as possible unless it is essential for work or healthcare for example.
“It is now an offence to travel to or from a level three or four part of Scotland or other parts of the UK unless you have a ‘reasonable excuse’. Going south for Christmas shopping, to visit friends and family or to have a winter break are not reasonable excuses.”
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