Around 99% of Covid-19 deaths in Scotland could be eradicated by the summer if everyone over 50 has been vaccinated but there remains uncertainty over when healthy Scots will receive the jab.
Scotland’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch, said he is hopeful younger people would be vaccinated “in the first half of next year” as he confirmed football stadia and community centres could be converted into mass vaccination hubs in the new year.
Special judgements may also be made so people suffering from terminal illnesses or the “clinically and extremely vulnerable” can jump the queue but Professor Leitch warned patients may need to be vaccinated regularly against the deadly virus.
He said it is not yet known how long any immunity from the treatment would last so this could become “something for our future, a bit like a flu vaccine or a travel vaccine, and we may have to have it regularly”.
‘There are too many unknowns’
Speaking during the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, Professor Leitch said it is too soon to put a deadline on when every adult in the country would receive the jab.
“There are just too many unknowns,” he said. “We don’t know which vaccines will be authorised. We don’t know how many of each vaccine we’ll get.
“We know how many we’ve bought – one hundred million doses across the UK of the AstraZeneca vaccine, so the AstraZeneca vaccine is very important to us. If that gets approved soon, rather than later, that helps us, it brings everything forward a little bit.
“What we’ve said across the whole UK is that we’re hoping to get to that over-50s group by the summer, and that would allow us to remove 99% of the mortality of this disease.
“If everything goes well, and you get everybody vaccinated who’s over 50, and those with pre-existing conditions under 50, then you get to 99% of the mortality.”
Professor Leitch said the timetable for vaccinating healthy Scots under 50 remains the “biggest unknown” because this group will require “big numbers of vaccine”.
“That group will have to be more patient,” he said. “I would hope that would begin in the first half of next year, all of us would, but it will depend entirely on AstraZeneca particularly getting us the vaccine.”
Professor Leitch, who appeared at the briefing with deputy first minister John Swinney, was asked how many vaccination centres had been identified by health officials but could only say this detail would “evolve over time”.
“As the vaccine programme gets up and running into the new year, that’s when we’ll start to see mass vaccination centres,” he said.
“That’s when you might see us using community centres, football stadia or GP practices. All of that will come in a wave further on than now.”
An attractive commodity
Also during the briefing, Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government was following MI5 advice “to the letter” to keep the vaccine secure because it is a “very attractive commodity” and could attract “unhealthy interest”.
It comes after spy chiefs advised against making public the location of freezer units used to store the vaccine.
Mr Swinney said there was “no direct intelligence” of any specific threat but that there had been “wise advice from the security services about the significance and the importance of the vaccine”.
“The vaccine is a very, very attractive commodity and attractive commodities attract, sometimes, unhealthy interest,” he said.
“The security services are giving us that advice, the government welcomes that advice and we will follow it. I think members of the public will understand why that’s the case.
“With that will also be the appropriate security arrangements to make sure that we can be able to faithfully assure the public that when the vaccine comes to Scotland, we’ll be able to handle it properly. It’ll be handled securely.
“It will be distributed securely so that we can maximise the supply of the vaccine to members of the public within Scotland and that’s the rationale for the advice, and we’ll be following it to the letter.”