Scotland is gearing up for the biggest vaccination programme ever delivered in the country – if the first coronavirus vaccines are approved and available for use next month.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman told MSPs on Thursday that the Scottish Government is ready to roll out such a venture, but how would that take shape and who would be targeted first?
– How much of Scotland’s population will be vaccinated?
When asked in a media briefing how many Scots would need to be vaccinated for things to go back to normal, interim deputy chief medical officer Dr Nicola Steedman admitted they do not yet know for sure.
However she said medical officials are “certainly planning for the vast majority of the population to take up the vaccine”, adding: “We want as many people to take up the vaccine as possible.
“What we have seen from the interim clinical efficacy trials is that the vaccines seem to protect very well, from what we can see so far against disease and against people getting sick.”
She also said it is not known if any of the vaccines prevent transmission.
– Which vaccines will we have?
Alison Strath, interim chief pharmaceutical officer, said the Pfizer vaccine is coming to Scotland in an initial delivery of 195 multi-dose vials, which equates to 975 doses, which have to be stored at minus 75C.
They can last at that temperature for six months, however once taken out at fridge temperature they only last for 120 hours (or five days) at 2-8C – and a two-hour expiry date at room temperature when going to vaccinate somebody.
Another “frontrunner” for the vaccines is one from AstraZeneca, with Ms Steedman saying Scotland’s allocation of those will be “absolutely key provided they are licensed and proven to be effective”.
– Who will be offered vaccines first?
It has been suggested the first Covid-19 vaccinations could be given to health and social care staff, older care home residents and those aged over 80.
Ms Steedman cited advice from the Joint Committee for Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI) for this first “cohort” before going down the ages in the second phase, along with “people who are younger, but vulnerable for other comorbidity reasons”.
A younger person – over the age of 18, with the vaccine only approved for adults – who is fit, healthy and has no other risk factors may be looking at a longer timescale.
– When will it start?
If a vaccine is approved then it could be ready for use on the first wave of Scots as early as December.
Ms Steedman said: “Our current allocations and calculations, we could be into spring or summer 2021 before we get the whole population vaccinated – but that’s based on vaccine production and vaccine supply more than anything else.”
– How will the vaccination programme be rolled out?
Ms Steedman highlighted the frontrunner vaccine “is not just a one-off vaccination for people” but one that requires two doses for everybody 28 days apart.
Caroline Lamb, director for Test and Protect delivery, said there will also be key data points to track, maybe within a GP surgery or care home, regarding who has had the first dosage and which vaccine they have received.
However she also highlighted it “is not a one-off vaccination”, adding: “I think our current expectation is that this is a vaccination programme that will need to be repeated.
“Therefore we are looking at how we both deal with that initial demand but then also build a sustainable vaccination team across Scotland for the future.”
– What other challenges are there?
Keeping the Pfizer vaccine at the required temperature will be one issue, with Ms Strath highlighting four transition points: at the company’s base in Belgium, a distributor in Haydock, England, then being unpacked to send out to the health boards themselves.
Transportation is also a challenge, she said, after having to “pack down these large boxes safely using a safe system so that we can have all the appropriate batch numbers and expiry dates that follow the vaccine for each individual vial”.
More information is to come regarding the operating procedure and stability data on transporting the vaccines.
She also added there will be contingencies in place for getting vaccines to the islands and remote parts of Scotland in the event of poor weather.
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