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Coronavirus / Plenty of help at hand to deliver mass vaccination programme

Emergency services have offered help with the rollout to the general population, although its success depends on vaccine supply, health chiefs warn

Pharmacy technician Zandra Williamson with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Photo: NHS Shetland

NHS Shetland will be “digging into a good pool of resource” to deliver mass Covid vaccinations over the coming months, according to health chiefs – with offers of help coming in from the isles’ emergency services and third sector.

It was announced this morning (Thursday) that three mass vaccination centres in Lerwick and Scalloway will be opened over coming weeks to provide first doses to the general population.

Director of community health and social care Brian Chittick said in a media briefing on Thursday morning that the centres – at Lerwick’s independent living centre and Gilbertson Park games hall, and the Scalloway games hall – will enable thousands of folk to be vaccinated.

Director of community health and social care Brian Chittick. Photo: Shetland News

By spring NHS Shetland is hoping to have all over 50s vaccinated after targeting priority groups, before moving to younger adults.

“We’re working hard to look at our workforce to get numbers in to support the [mass vaccination] programme,” Chittick said.

“We’re also looking at how we train our workforce to be safe and competent vaccine deliverers and vaccinators.”

Consultant in public health Dr Susan Laidlaw said there have been offers of help from the fire and ambulance service, coastguard and Red Cross, while some former NHS staff have also asked for training to become vaccinators.

During the mass vaccination stage people living in outlying areas who are unable travel will be offered something closer to home.

“We’ve looked at other places [for mass vaccination centres] and it’s quite tricky to find places where we can do this, because there’s certain requirements,” Dr Laidlaw said.

“It does mean that unfortunately people will have to travel to Lerwick, but that is the biggest population centre.”

Constraints on the mass vaccination centres include parking space and the ability to implement one-way systems inside, Chittick said.

“I think in terms of our planning, it goes up to about the summer time, for giving everybody two doses,” Dr Laidlaw said.

“That’s quite a lot faster than some of the national predictions…but we will have centres for as long as we need them.”

Dr Laidlaw also warned that the programme is “completely determined on vaccine supply”.

“We’re doing all we can to make sure we’ve got the premises and we’ve got the staff. It’s literally sitting waiting for the vaccine to come.

“We can never really guarantee we’ve got a vaccine until we see it sitting in our fridge.”

Official figures released on Wednesday showed that more than 1,150 people have received the first dose of the vaccine so far in Shetland, but Dr Laidlaw said that figure will now have increased by a few hundred.

The figure is still behind Orkney and the Western Isles but the vaccine arrived later in Shetland than other areas, while there were also initial logistical problems with travel to the outer isles.

Public health consultant Dr Susan Laidlaw.

All care home residents have now received the first dose, and the focus at the moment is on frontline and patient and client facing staff, both within the NHS and the council, as well as the over 80s.

The health chiefs reminded people not to phone up GP practices about the vaccination as folk will be contacted when the time is right.

Dr Laidlaw also said that receiving just one dose “helps to reduce the risk of serious illness, of hospitalisation and of death”.

“It’s not going to eliminate it, but it reduces the risk,” she said, adding that people may still get ill with Covid after having the first dose.

The public health consultant said it still an unknown whether the Covid vaccine may have to become an annual fixture, like the flu jab.

“I think it will depend on what we see in terms of the virus mutating, and if there are new strains that come along, that the current vaccine doesn’t catch,” she said.

Dr Laidlaw said if this was the case the vaccine may have to be adapted, rather than having a new one created, or that boosters may be needed at some point.