The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect daily life for all of us in Scotland. The huge national effort to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives has been unprecedented in recent history. The vaccination programme is a significant milestone in our collective fight against the virus, and is one of three key ways we are working to control the virus, along with our expanded testing programme to identify cases and break chains of transmission and the important restrictions currently in place that everyone in Scotland must follow. We published Scotland’s COVID-19 vaccine deployment plan in January, and I am publishing this update to reflect on how far we have come, and the next steps ahead.
We recently reached a significant landmark in our COVID-19 vaccination programme – the delivery of a first dose of vaccine to more than 2 million people in Scotland since the programme began in December 2020. That this has been achieved in little more than three months is an incredible achievement, and down to the enormous efforts of our vaccination teams. We are extremely grateful for the support of unpaid volunteers who continue to play an important role in the programme, and to the faith, third sector and community groups working alongside us and with Health Boards to ensure that no one who is eligible for a vaccine is left behind. I also want to say thank you to everyone across the country who has taken up their offer of a vaccine so far, and urge everyone who is offered a vaccine to take up their invitation.
We are witnessing in Scotland the delivery of a mass vaccination programme, the likes of which we have never seen before. This has required, and continues to require, massive mobilisation and collaboration across a wide range of partners. Thanks to everyone who is working tirelessly to make this programme a success, the vaccine roll-out continues to deliver at pace. We are making excellent progress through the 9 groups of people that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended be initially prioritised for COVID-19 vaccinations, which is estimated to represent approximately 99% of the preventable mortality from COVID-19. As at 24 March 2021, we have now given a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to just under half (49.5%) of the adult population in Scotland and a second dose to 5.5% of the adult population.
On vaccine safety, we continue to be led by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and in line with their findings from rigorous scientific review of all the available data, we remain confident on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for supply by the MHRA.
There has understandably been significant focus on the speed of the roll out in Scotland in comparison to elsewhere. In Scotland, we deliberately focused first on residents in care homes for older people to stand the chance of saving as many lives as possible with the vaccine, in line with the advice from the JCVI. We have seen excellent uptake of vaccination by both care home residents and staff, and while further evidence and analysis is needed there are promising findings which show reduced hospital admissions from COVID-19 and COVID-19 registered deaths of those in our care homes.
Promising real world data are emerging about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. The rapid progress with vaccination and the positive and growing evidence of the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines provides all of us with firmer grounds for hope about the weeks and months ahead. However, we are still learning about exactly how effective vaccination is against COVID-19 disease and transmission in the population, the duration of immunity it might provide, and the exact impact of the current vaccines in providing protection from emerging COVID-19 variants of concern.
It is therefore essential that all of us continue, for now, to follow the current rules and guidance to suppress transmission of the virus. The latest information about current rules and guidance can be found on the Scottish Government website.
I know how difficult the current restrictions continue to be, but they are working. They are how we all keep the virus under control and continue to protect each other, while the vaccination programme continues, and we continue to emerge from the most severe restrictions we have had to put in place to protect the population.
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport