THE coronavirus vaccination programme for Scotland’s care home residents and older citizens will start in less than two weeks, the Health Secretary has confirmed. 

Her announcement came as the firm behind the new jag revealed there could now be more leeway in how it’s stored and transported. 

It was thought that the Pfizer vaccine needed to be kept at -70c, and could only be transported once, and only moved in cases of 1000. 

That made it impractical to take into care homes. With unease over transporting frail residents to hospitals in the middle of a pandemic, there were fears some of the country’s most vulnerable could miss out. 

In Holyrood, Jeane Freeman revealed that there had been more discussions between the four nations and the firm behind the jag about the drug’s stability data.  

She told MSPs there could now be a little more freedom: “The Pfizer vaccine can be transported in an unfrozen state for up to 12 hours, and can be stored undiluted for up to five days. I'm also pleased to confirm that under certain conditions, we can pack down to smaller pack sizes. Both of which makes this vaccine more usable with minimum wastage for care home residents and for our older citizens. 

“So in effect, we can take the vaccine to them, or close to them, and we will begin that exercise from December 14.”

The UK Government has secured 800,000 doses of the vaccine. Of that Scotland will get a population share of 65,600. 

However, because the inoculation needs two jags, that initial delivery will only cover just over 32,000 people.

The first group to be vaccinated will be those doing the vaccinating, followed by health and social care workers. That process should start next Tuesday. 

Freeman told MSPs that expert advice from the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation recommended vaccinating care home residents and staff as this would “cover almost 99% of vaccine-preventable deaths from Covid-19”

The Health Secretary added: “When the first delivery is received in Scotland, it will go straight to the 23 commercial freezers we have which can store the vaccine in the required temperature of minus 70 degrees, and are located across Scotland including in our important island authorities."

Freeman said the government would need 2000 vaccinators and support staff by the end of January. She said the workforce planning was well underway, with “an existing core of trained and experienced vaccinators from the flu programme” ready to transition over to the Covid vaccination programme over the next two months.

She told MSPs: “We are actively recruiting from the emergency registers and the NHS Scotland accelerated recruitment portal and drawing from the wider clinical workforce of GPs, pharmacists, dentists and optometrists. From Tuesday next week we will need 160 whole time equivalent vaccinators per day to begin delivery.”

The Tory shadow health minister, Donald Cameron said the news of the vaccines approval would give “millions of people across the country hope that we will soon return to some semblance of normality.”

He asked Freeman if she could tell parliament how many freezers are currently in each health board area, what their capacity is and if the government had orders out for any more.

The Health Secretary said: “I would wish to advise members where they are - and this is not a reason for not doing that - but national security which is a part of MI5 is very unsure about the wisdom of making public where our storages for what is a very precious vaccine indeed.

“So we continue to talk on a four nation basis with them because obviously and evidently people want to know that their area is covered. 

“What I can do and will do is advise members of how many each board area has so that you can see I hope that we are ensuring proper coverage.

“They're there, they're being tested, and they are all of a size that can accommodate the vaccine supply as we expect as they come through.”

Earlier in the day, Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that there was "no issue more important to this Government right now than making sure this vaccination programme works effectively and efficiently, that as soon as we have supplies of vaccine they are used to vaccinate people in the order of priority.

"The focus of me, the Health Secretary and the entire Government is on making sure all the appropriate steps are taken."

She added vaccine doses will be used "as soon as they become available" and "as closely as possible in line with the order of prioritisation that the [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] have set out".

Sturgeon continued: "If for the first period it is difficult to get the vaccine to care homes, obviously we will use these supplies for NHS and staff who work in care homes."
She said the first doses will be given to people "close to these vaccine deployment centres", saying this will "ensure we can make maximum use of the first supplies of the vaccine we get".

With other vaccines also due to be approved, Sturgeon said the Government is "also exploring a number of options around larger vaccination centres".

Sturgeon also revealed that a further 51 deaths from coronavirus and 958 more positive cases have been recorded in Scotland in the past 24 hours.