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Coronavirus / Fight against Covid-19 continues to be ‘a long haul’

NHS SHETLAND’s chief executive has issued a word of caution to islanders that it is not time to let their guard down despite the welcome news that the first small batch of a Covid-19 vaccine is due to arrive in the islands next week.

Michael Dickson said discussions on exactly how many doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will come to Shetland are ongoing, as are details of who will be among the first group to be offered the vaccine.

On Wednesday the UK became the first nation to approve the EU-manufactured vaccine for use – though others, including an Oxford /AstraZeneca vaccine – are also expected to be available soon.

Due to the extremely low temperatures the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at – which presents particular problems in terms of vaccinating care home residents – it is likely vaccination will take place at the Gilbert Bain Hospital.

“The vaccine will come to Shetland in really small doses, initially,” Dickson said. “It is a case of us contact people rather than people contact us, so there is no point in knocking on your GP’s door saying ‘can I have the vaccine because I am going back to university’.

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson. Photo: Shetland News

“We have to take into consideration the limitation of this particular vaccine in terms of identifying who would be best placed to get it.”

During First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Thursday lunchtime, Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged vaccines would be administered at or close to deployment centres initially due to the “ultra low” temperatures required.

The issue of how to vaccinate care home residents formed part of discussions between the four UK home nations on Wednesday evening, she said.

Although it “may not be possible for this vaccine to be moved to care homes immediately” she remains “hopeful” that a way can be found quickly and promised “greater clarity in the days to come”.

Dickson pointed out that a number of vaccines were about to go to medicines regulator the MRHA for approval.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines are “far easier to handle” requiring “just refrigeration rather than these low temperatures” and “those will be relatively straightforward for us to deploy in places such as the outer islands”, the NHS manager said.

Although approval of the first vaccine in a record time of just 10 months is a game-changer in the fight against Covid-19, Dickson stressed normal life was unlikely to return any time soon.

“This is our first real opportunity to fundamentally change how we approach Covid-19, but it is a long haul,” he said. “This is the start, we will be seeing normal life [starting] to return round about summer time.”

Again praising the local community’s response, he warned against becoming complacent too early and appealed to people to continue following the rules such as wearing face masks, thorough hand hygiene, social distancing and avoiding crowded places.

“The main aim now is by reducing the pool of people able to pick up the virus, you reduce its ability to jump from person to person,” he said.

“Initially it is a protection for the people we vaccinate, and it is about reducing the potential hosts out in the community. The higher the uptake of the Covid vaccine is, the better it is for all of us.

“We all want to get back to normal, and the best [way] to do that is by keeping to the rules that we got, by looking after each other, and when you become eligible for the vaccine come forward and take it.”

There had been much speculation that the festive school holidays would be extended by a week to help curb any rise in infections as a result of families getting together over Christmas.

But Sturgeon’s government confirmed on Thursday morning that will not be happening.

She confirmed another 51 deaths had been recorded across Scotland in the past 24 hours and a further 958 cases – a positivity rate of 4.3 per cent among those tested – and said the R number across the country was estimated to be just below 1.

Shetland has not recorded a new Covid-19 case in over a week and, along with Orkney and the Western Isles, remains the least-affected part of the country at present.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was the seventh successive day of no infections after a total of eight cases were recorded in the four weeks up to 25 November.