"Our vaccine effort lags behind the rest of the UK – which is why now is the time to follow WHO guidance and cut the time between jags” – Jackie Baillie tweet, 14 July 2021


Jackie Baillie exaggerates. The vaccination rate for the first dose is higher in Scotland, while the second dose coverage is 65.5%, less than one point lower than in England. And the UK body tasked with advising on covid vaccination has warned that reducing the interval between doses will lead to more infections.


A Labour frontbencher for nearly quarter of a century, Baillie is currently deputy leader of Scottish Labour and shadow spokesperson for heath issues. She has a formidable reputation as her political longevity attests. Broadcaster Andrew Neil praised her interrogation technique during the Holyrood investigation into the Scottish Government’ handling of the sexual allegations against Alex Salmond. Baillie has an unusual background, having been born in Hong Kong to a Portuguese father and Scottish mother.


On Tuesday 13 July, the First Minister moved Scotland to a modified Level Zero in Covid precautions, while retaining the mandatory use of face masks in public places. This liberalisation was made despite high levels of infection in Scotland arising from the Delta variation of the virus. The FM noted that the vaccination programme was weakening the link between case numbers and severe illnesses.

In response, Jackie Baillie cautioned against over-reliance on the vaccination programme in Scotland. Addressing the point on Twitter, Baillie commented: "Our vaccine effort lags behind the rest of the UK -which is why now is the time to follow WHO guidance and cut the time between jags. The MHRA [regulator agency] has said that the 2nd dose can be given after 4 weeks. America and Australia have cut waiting times. We can’t afford not to act."

READ MORE: Jackie Baillie accused of 'unadulterated lies' in attack on Scottish jag effort

Is Baillie correct to say the Scottish vaccination record lags behind the rest of the UK? And will reducing the time period between jags resolve the situation?


According to the Office for National Statistics and the various UK health agencies, as of Monday 12 July, 88.8% of adult Scots had received their first dose. This compares with 87.3% at a UK level and 87.1% in England. Wales was higher at 90.2%. There is a degree of estimation in these numbers, but it would seem Scotland is at least as good as the UK average and probably better.

The National:

Looking at the situation for those adults with a second dose, Scotland comes in at 65.5% of the population versus 66.2% in England, 73.2% in Wales, and 66.4% for the UK as a whole. However, Wales aside, the variation is narrow and taking the estimation involved in compiling the data it would be reasonable to conclude that the vaccination coverage in Scotland is not noticeably lower for second dosages than England.

Baillie is technically correct to say there is – as of 14 July – a lower (second) dose coverage in Scotland, but she is wrong when it comes to the first dose. Overall, give the tiny fractions involved, a reasonable person would conclude that there is no real evidence to suggest the FM is wrong in saying the vaccination programme in Scotland is successfully weakening the link between catching the virus and severe illnesses or hospitalisation. In which case, the FM’s cautious reduction in lockdown measures seems justified, especially given her caveat on wearing face masks.


What of Baillie’s demand that the timing between jags is reduced? Baillie claims: “The scientific evidence is clear that cutting the time between vaccines is safe – the SNP need to stop delaying and act now to get the virus under control.”

When you receive the first dose of a two-dose covid vaccine, it kick-starts the body’s immune system; but the second significantly strengthens your immune response. The gap depends on the kind of vaccine and the individual’s own immune system.

The UK Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations (JCVI) has recommended that the interval between jags should be eight weeks. The Scottish Government has followed the advice from the JCVI throughout the pandemic. Baillie has offered no reason why the JCVI should be over-ridden in the current circumstances.

The National:

The strategy for vaccination recommended by the JCVI is “to reduce serious disease, including death”. As a result, JCVI advice for the UK has been to prioritise vaccinating specifically older age groups before extending to the whole adult population. It has recently recommended booster jags for the over-70s and those in residential care, again in preference to the wider population. Baillie’s approach would seem to advocate a mass immunisation of the whole population as a priority over targeting the most vulnerable groups. It is not clear on whose advice she bases this move.

There has been media speculation in the past week that the interval between jags in England will be cut to four weeks, and the Westminster government has asked the JCVI to pronounce on the viability of doing so. On Wednesday 14 July, the JCVI rejected the notion of cutting the vaccination interval to four weeks, saying that such a move would only lead to more infections.

READ MORE: Blow for Labour as experts say no benefit to reducing Covid jag interval

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the JCVI, said: “We've looked at this data very carefully over the last few days and it is quite clear, from the AstraZeneca vaccine, there is absolutely no doubt that the longer interval gives you much better protection.

“But we concentrated on the Pfizer vaccine because of course that's one that's being given to younger people at the moment. And it's quite clear from antibody T cells studies that you get much lower response, and poorer quality memory response, with the shorter interval.”


The National: National Fact Check False 

3/10 for Jackie Baillie. She is technically correct to say Scotland lags England in second jags, but the actual difference is minor. And her suggestion to cut the time between dosages has been rejected on medical grounds by the vaccine regulator. Another case of Ms Baillie putting politics being put before science.