First Covid vaccine approved

Yesterday was the day we’ve all been hoping and waiting for – the announcement of a Covid-19 vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is the first to receive authorisation to supply from the UK regulatory body, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The Scottish Government has announced that the vaccine deployment will begin from Tuesday 8th December.

This blog post provides some further details on the vaccine programme – which has been worked on, in partnership, by all four nations of the UK.

The first point I wish to address is the overall age range to be vaccinated. 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is an independent expert advisory committee that advises UK health departments on immunisation, making recommendations concerning vaccination schedules, and vaccine safety.

The JCVI has drawn up a list which recommends prioritising those with the greatest clinical need – including those aged over 80, and health and social care workers. The full list, which the Scottish Government has agreed to follow, can be found below:

  1. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  2. All those 80 years of age and over; frontline health and social care workers
  3. All those 75 years of age and over
  4. All those 70 years of age and over; clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
  5. All those 65 years of age and over
  6. All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
  7. All those 60 years of age and over
  8. All those 55 years of age and over
  9. All those 50 years of age and over

It is of course worth remembering that everyone will require two vaccines, with the second vaccine between 21 and 28 days after the first, so even for those who are among the first, there will be very few completed until early next year. The MHRA has been clear that of the supplies arriving in December, we should retain 50% so we can provide the second dose to those who have received their first dose within the timeframe advised.

It has been confirmed that for this Pfizer vaccine, it is not advised to be taken by women who are pregnant or who plan to become pregnant in the next 3 months.   

The vaccine aims to reduce mortality and morbitiy from Covid-19 and the guidance prioritises those most at risk from harm on an age basis and working our way through to the youngest adults, taking account of those who are clinically vulnerable. The only sectoral exception to that is for the health and social care workforce who are in the first priority group alongside those 80 and over and care home residents.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of the JCVI COVID Vaccine Subgroup, has stated that the aim of vaccinating care home residents and staff, everyone over 50 in order of age from oldest to youngest, and health care workers is to cover almost 99% of vaccine-preventable deaths from Covid-19. As such, the Scottish Government agrees this is the correct approach to take.

The Pfizer vaccine has specific storage and transportation requirements of exceptionally low temperature and limited transportation time once taken out of that very low temperature environment. It also comes in pack sizes of 997 doses. All of that poses particular logistical challenges in vaccinating individuals close to their home – so for care home residents and indeed for elderly citizens living in their own home.

Today, following detailed discussions led by the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, the Scottish Government now have confirmation, on the basis of the stability data, that the Pfizer vaccine can be transported in an unfrozen state for up to 12 hours and can be stored undiluted for up to 5 days.

Additionally, it has been confirmed that under certain conditions we can pack down to smaller pack sizes for care home residents and our older citizens.

So, in effect, we can take the vaccine to care home residents or close to them, and Scotland will begin that exercise from the 14th December.

From next Tuesday, the 8th, we will begin vaccinating first the vaccinators themselves and then work our way through the first cohorts of health and social care workers.

When the first delivery is received in Scotland it will go straight to the 23 commercial freezers which can store the vaccine in the required temperature of -70°c and are located across Scotland, including in island authorities.

As other vaccines come through the MHRA authorisation and JCVI guidance process, the Scottish Government will flex planning and delivery to take account of any necessary changes. But, on the basis that the Scottish Government receives the vaccine supply that they expect, Scotland should be able to vaccinate the first cohort by Spring. The rest of the adult population will follow as quickly as possible thereafter.

The Scottish Government is also committed to highlighting the safety and efficacy of this vaccine and the others to follow. Please be assured, in authorising the vaccine for supply no corners have been cut. The process has been as rigorous and robust as it always is and as we would expect it to be. 

Details on further age groups will be outlined in due course, and I’ll endeavour to keep constituents updated.

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