The first coronavirus vaccines could be available in Scotland by next month, Jeane Freeman has said.
The Health Secretary told MSPs the Scottish Government is ready to roll out a vaccination programme if one is approved for use in December.
She said the safety of any potential vaccine is “paramount” and will not be at the expense of the “compressed” timeframe for producing one during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement on the Scottish Government’s plans to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine, Ms Freeman said: “We have rightly worked across the four nations to secure the vaccines and to secure agreement on the population share of the duties purchased for each of the UK nations.
“From December, we expect to see the first delivery of vaccines to Scotland.
“We are planning on the basis that both the Joint Committee for Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI) are able to review the clinical evidence and provide governments with a recommendation and that the vaccine receives a licence.”
Ms Freeman added: “We’re ready for December but the first vaccine available has to be approved and supplies have to arrive.
“Thereafter, we need to see more vaccines become available and to understand the delivery schedules for each.”
Seeking to reassure people about the safety protocols for any vaccine, Ms Freeman said there will be a “rigorous and independent three-phase testing process” before one could be licenced and approved for use.
She added: “We’ve seen unprecedented investment worldwide and research development and manufacture people across the world – including here in Scotland – volunteering to take part in clinical trials, and driven and dedicated research teams.
“That is why we’re seeing these front-running vaccines delivered in months, rather than the many years that vaccine development can sometimes take.
“It is impressive but it is not at the expense of safety.”
The first phase of vaccines will be offered to frontline health and social care workers, care home residents and staff, those over 80 and people delivering the vaccination programme.
Over 65s and those at “additional clinical risk” are next in line to be prioritised for vaccination, based on the current JCVI guidance.
“For those in the first wave of the programme, you will be contacted during December and January, either by mail or – for health and social care workers -by your employer, and you will be told where you will receive your vaccine, how to make an appointment, and what you need to know,” Ms Freeman said.
She explained there is still logistical work to be done to prepare health boards to carry out vaccinations, with ongoing efforts to recruit and train the workforce, create a national booking service and set up sites for “mass vaccination”, as well as those that will be carried out in homes and care homes.
Ms Freeman estimated more then 2,000 staff will be needed as vaccinators or support workers by January and announced an agreement with the BMA on terms and conditions for GP involvement in a vaccination programme.
She stressed there are still many unknown factors, such as the specific availability, transport conditions, number of doses, the level of protection and the characteristics of certain vaccines.
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