Nicola Sturgeon has been challenged to speed up the pace of Covid-19 booster jags, with opposition leaders insisting more than 100,000 Scots who were eligible for a third dose of vaccine had not yet received it.
The First Minister insisted that “good progress” was being made with the boosters- which are often being given at the same time as people receive their flu vaccination.
More than 500,000 Scots have already had a third dose of Covid-19 vaccine to increase their immunity levels against the virus, she said.
But Labour and Tory leaders pressed her on the more than 100,000 Scots who had their second dose at least six months ago but are still waiting for their third jag.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Up to 104,000 people who are at a high risk from Covid-19 are still waiting for a booster, having already waited longer than six months.”
He added: “We’re hearing about long queues outside vaccination centres in all weathers with people being asked to travel many miles for their booster.
“The First Minister suggested evening and weekend clinics may open in the future, but does she not agree we need more capacity right now?”
His comments came after Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross had insisted: “There are 100,000 people who got their second jag six months ago and should be getting their booster but are still waiting.
“What is holding up those people getting their booster jag?” he added.
Giving a Covid-19 update to MSPs, the First Minister explained the main constraint on the speed of making boosters available was the advice from experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that third doses should only be given six months after people have received their second injection.
With the annual flu vaccine programme under way, Ms Sturgeon said the NHS was “currently delivering the biggest-ever winter vaccination programme”.
She added that people aged over 70, those in care homes, frontline health and care workers and those deemed to be at highest risk from coronavirus were all being prioritised for a third dose.
These people “will all have been offered the booster vaccination between now and early November”, Ms Sturgeon pledged.
Other groups, including the over-50s, will get appointments in November, December and into early January, with an online portal due to open in November for people to book.
Ms Sturgeon insisted: “We are making good progress – but every effort is being made, within the limits of JCVI advice, to accelerate the pace of this programme.”
This could see extra vaccination clinics operating in evenings and weekends as boosters are offered to more younger Scots.
But Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said ministers had previously pledged the booking portal would be open in October.
With Ms Sturgeon urging people to ensure they follow basic protections, such as mask-wearing and hand hygiene, he said the Scottish Government also had a “duty to step up their efforts to get the basics right as well”.
However, the First Minister told him: “Overall this vaccination programme is an outstanding success and that is of course is because of the efforts of the many people delivering it across the country.”
She told Holyrood: “We could not start vaccinating with booster jags until the JCVI gave their final advice, by which time many people had already passed the six month mark.
“We are making sure that pace is as fast as it can be and looking at all ways to speed that up.”