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Coronavirus / Covid-19 vaccinations set to begin across Scotland next week

‘This is a marathon not a sprint’, says NHS Shetland chief executive

THE COVID-19 vaccination programme is expected to begin across Scotland from next week after a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved for use in the UK.

Medicines regulator the MHRA has given the green light for the jab, which offers up to 95 per cent protection against Covid-19, to be administered.

In her Wednesday lunchtime briefing Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that, providing supplies are delivered as expected in the coming days, the first vaccinations will be given next Tuesday (8 December).

Interim chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith said the hope was vaccines would be deployed across Scotland “at the same time”.

It is not clear how many islanders are likely to be vaccinated in the first part of the programme, but UK health minister Matt Hancock said 800,000 doses would be available across the country from next week.

Scotland will receive 8.2 per cent of that initial allocation, or around 65,000 doses. Each patient will receive two doses between 21-28 days apart.

NHS Shetland officials have said previously that the islands could be expected to receive somewhere in the region of 1,000 doses in the first few weeks.

On Wednesday night the health board’s chief executive Michael Dickson described the vaccine approval as “great news” but emphasised Shetland would “only get limited supply before Christmas” with those most at risk to be offered the vaccine first.

“We will update you as to when each group can get the vaccine, please don’t call your GP practice / health centre or the hospital to request it,” he said in a Facebook post. “Please be patient with us, this is a marathon not a sprint.”

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said it was “encouraging” that officials had already confirmed island health boards would be ready to store the vaccine – which requires to be kept at very cold temperatures – locally.

“The approval of a vaccine is hugely positive news – now we need to work together to ensure that it is rolled out to everyone who needs it as quickly as possible,” he said.

“We also have to remember the vital work done by the researchers behind this vaccine – they have turned this around at an incredible pace and deserve all the credit for its success. It is a reminder of what people can achieve through international cooperation and partnership, values we will continue to rely on as we move towards a return to normal life.”

Sturgeon said the vaccine approval was “without a shadow of a doubt the best news we’ve heard since this pandemic started” but emphasised there would still be “dips in the road along the way” this winter.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has published an updated priority list, with age a key factor.

Care home residents, those over the age of 80 and frontline health and social care workers will be the highest priority, followed by those over the age of 70 and individuals deemed clinically extremely vulnerable.

“There will be fair distribution across all parts of Scotland,” Sturgeon said, adding there were different characteristics to the different Covid-19 vaccines which “will inform some of the decisions about how we roll things out – but every part of Scotland will get fair access”.

Shetland is currently under level 1 restrictions, the lowest level any community in Scotland enjoys, but there is no indication that it will be put into level 0 imminently.

After recording eight cases in the space of four weeks up to 25 November, Wednesday (2 December) was the seventh successive day in which Shetland recorded no new Covid-19 infections.

But while Shetland and some other parts of the country meet criteria that would allow restrictions to be eased further, Sturgeon said the government had to make a balanced judgement which included factoring in the prevalence of the virus in other parts of the country.

She emphasised that she had “zero interest” in keeping any community “under tighter restrictions when I really didn’t think that was necessary”.

Sturgeon said it was imperative to use the vaccine news to “motivate us to do everything we can” until it takes effect “to keep ourselves and each other safe”, including over the Christmas period.

Given the growing hope that vaccination could allow restrictions to be lifted by the spring, she would “encourage everybody just to think very carefully about whether you want to take any unnecessary risks with family members over Christmas”.