SECOND doses of the Covid vaccine are set to be given out more quickly in response to concern over the Indian variant of the virus, which has appeared in Scotland.
New guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the Scottish Government says second doses of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine should now be given closer to eight weeks.
So far, the policy has been to give the second dose at eight to 12 weeks and, in Shetland, these had usually been given at about 10 weeks.
Recently it was advised that the second dose of AstraZeneca should be given nearer to 12 weeks than eight because it may have better long term protection.
But the latest change in guidance comes from new evidence that the first dose of Covid vaccine may not be quite as effective against the Indian variant as it is for the other ones in Scotland.
There is a hope that this acceleration should see most people in Shetland fully vaccinated within the next couple of months.
“The aim of bringing forward the second dose to nearer eight weeks is to get more people fully vaccinated and as protected as possible before they come into contact with this particular variant,” NHS Shetland interim director of public health Dr Susan Laidlaw said.
“In Shetland more than half the adult population has already received their second dose, with more clinics scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
“That means that most of the people in the risk groups and people over 50 will have received their second dose by the end of this week.
“More clinics are being put in place to bring in anyone in these priority groups, who has not yet had their second dose, sooner than originally planned and nearer to eight weeks.
“Going forward, appointments for second vaccinations will be scheduled at about 8-9 weeks for the other age groups, depending on vaccine supply.”
Dr Laidlaw said anyone who has not yet had their first dose, particularly those in the higher risk groups, are being asked to make themselves known.
“Shetland has done well with its vaccination rollout: more than 90% of the adult population has had a first dose. Everyone who is on the lists for vaccination has been contacted and everyone who is contactable by by phone has been offered the vaccine.
“There are still a few hundred people who have not been spoken to but they have been sent letters. Appointments are also being given to people who did not want the vaccine when first asked but who have changed their mind, students and others returning home from the mainland and people who have recently moved to Shetland.
“This is of course all dependent on vaccine supply. This has improved but the changes to the guidance will put additional pressure on supplies.
“Supplies will be prioritised to the areas where they have outbreaks of the new variant, and areas where vaccine uptake among the priority groups has been low. Shetland is not in this position. So, there may not be enough vaccine to do all the second doses at eight weeks going forward, but these will be scheduled as early as possible, especially for those in the priority groups.”
Dr Laidlaw that vaccine supply is now “much more settled” than compared to a few months or weeks ago.
She also clarified that people with appointments already booked will not have their date changed.
“But going forward we will start bringing people nearer to the eight weeks. We won’t be able to do that straight away, but we’ll just bring them in when we can.
“For us it’s a bit of work to do, it’s nothing compared to what the bigger [health] boards have to do with their numbers.”
Dr Laidlaw reiterated that there are no long terms problems with anyone who has had a gap of more than 12 weeks between doses, but the hope is to accelerate the process.
She also said NHS Shetland is keen to hear from anyone who declined a vaccine early on in the process but may have changed their mind.
This may have included pregnant women, for example, due to initial guidance which was later altered.
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