The Scottish Government needs to clarify when it hopes the full roll-out of Covid-19 vaccinations will be done, say the Conservatives.
First Minister’s Questions on Thursday afternoon was dominated by news of the rollout of a vaccine against the disease, described as a “light at the end of the tunnel” moment by Nicola Sturgeon.
Earlier this month Health Secretary Jeane Freeman had said it was hoped the vaccination programme could be out in full by spring, but both the first minister and health secretary at a later briefing would not give a date as to when they expected completion.
Care home residents and staff — who have been grossly afflicted by the pandemic — are “first in line” to receive the inoculation.
More than 65,500 doses are expected to fill 23 freezers in each NHS health board by Tuesday December 8, the first minister said.
Due to the nature of the Pfizer vaccine, distributing enough to places away from where they will be safely stored will be an issue, making it difficult to reach those in care who cannot easily be moved, Ms Sturgeon warned.
Vaccines will initially be dosed out — at yet-to-be disclosed locations close to the storage centres, with specially trained staff overseeing the project.
Will programme be rolled out in full by summer?
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives at Holyrood, Ruth Davidson, asked if all waves of the government’s vaccination programme would be rolled-out by the spring.
She said: “The health secretary made it clear in a statement less than a fortnight ago that the Scottish Government hopes to complete the vaccination programme in full by spring next year.
“However, this morning she told the BBC that only waves one and two of the vaccinations will be completed by spring and that only after the spring will we move to vaccinate people under the age of 65.
“Does the first minister expect all waves of vaccinations to be completed by spring, and does she agree that it is critical that the government sets clear benchmarks in order to avoid raising expectations that cannot be met?”
Ms Sturgeon responded: “We very much hope that what the health secretary set out in Parliament when last she gave a statement is what we will be able to deliver.
“That is what we are working towards. Ruth Davidson’s point about being clear with people is important.
“Although we have had the fantastic news this week of the authorisation to supply the Pfizer vaccine, our overall vaccination programme is contingent on a number of other vaccines receiving authorisation, so that supplies of them can flow in the quantities and at the pace that we expect.
“We have no reason to feel pessimistic about any of that right now, but the processes are regulatory processes that we do not control. It is important that all the vaccines go through those rigorous and robust processes, which is an important part of ensuring public confidence.
“At every step of the way we will, as we did yesterday as soon as we got the news about the Pfizer vaccine, set out our expectations for when the vaccination programme will start.
“We will also set out the issues that we are grappling with in relation to the first vaccine as soon as we have authorisations for the other vaccines, including the AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine, of which the UK has procured the biggest number of doses.
“We will set that out with clarity at every step of the way for the public and, of course, we will communicate directly with members of the public as well.”
Vaccine misinformation must be tackled
Labour leader Richard Leonard asked the first minister what was being done to stop the spread of misinformation ahead of the vaccine rollout.
Ms Sturgeon said it was on all MSPs, the media and social media companies to tackle the spread of untruths.
Mr Leonard also asked if she still had confidence in public health minister Joe FitzPatrick, the Dundee West MSP, following a “car crash” response to an urgent question.
— Scottish Parliament (@ScotParl) December 2, 2020
Ms Sturgeon said: “For all aspects of the Covid-19 response, whether it is the health secretary, the public health minister or any minister, we are collectively responsible and engaged in making sure that we respond effectively to all aspects of this crisis.
“Ultimately, of course, the buck stops with me.”
Details on long and short-term plans ‘essential’
Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said: “A number of key questions remain unanswered and we need to hear those details quickly since vaccinations will begin next week.
“Care homes residents were promised they would be first in the queue to receive a vaccine and, while there are logistical issues across the UK, we need more details of how this can be solved.
“Information on where freezers will be located must be published immediately because this vaccine will need to be stored correctly across the country from next week.
“The successful delivery of this jab is dependent on vaccination centres opening smoothly, so it’s essential that we see a full list of which venues will be used and when they will open.
“It’s vital that not only short-term but long-term plans are in place, and the public need to know if the intention is to finish vaccination by spring – or much later.
“The government must set out clear plans and benchmarks so that, amid the swarm of information, people know exactly what is happening.”