Coronavirus (COVID-19) - vaccine deployment: Health Secretary's statement 3 December 2020

Statement on COVID-19 vaccine deployment given by the Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to Parliament on Thursday 3 December 2020.

Presiding Officer,

Yesterday was the day we’ve all been hoping and waiting for and I’m pleased to return to the chamber to update Parliament on the deployment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the first COVID-19 vaccine to receive authorisation to supply from the UK regulatory body, the MHRA.

Previously, I set out the advance planning we have undertaken so that we could be confident that as soon as the first vaccine supplies arrived, we were ready to begin.  Today I can confirm that we will begin from Tuesday 8 December along with our counterparts across the 4 nations of the UK.

Previously I also set out a number of areas where we could not finalise our planning because we did not have final and detailed information.  Some of those remain, but the authorisation to supply received from the MHRA overnight on the 1st December and advised to me in the early morning of the 2nd, alongside the final advice from the JCVI on the Pfizer vaccine published yesterday, provides some of that important information.

Firstly on the overall age range to be vaccinated.  JCVI have now asked that we include 16 and 17 year olds who have underlying health conditions.  We will do that and factor those young people into our delivery.  Secondly 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.

And finally we have the detailed information on those for whom this Pfizer vaccine is not advised – women who are pregnant or who plan to become pregnant in the next 3 months.   These are all vital pieces of information – which will come perhaps differently in content for all the COVID-19 vaccines MHRA will authorise – and which allow us to complete the patients leaflet to support informed patient consent and the necessary clinical governance protocols and advice to clinical teams.

Throughout we have worked on a 4 nation basis and yesterday morning I agreed with my colleague health ministers that, subject to the first batch approved supplies arriving, we would begin the vaccination programme on Tuesday 8 December. I will discuss, where we are with other colleagues on Monday evening.

Between yesterday and next Tuesday, detailed work and discussions are underway covering a number of issues.  Completion as I have said of patient consent work, clinical governance arrangement protocols, safe transportation and storage guidance, data collection - and training which will occur on an iterative basis for the clinically accredited staff who will vaccinate.   The training material are being finalised by NES using the detail now available for MHRA and JCVI and the first sessions scheduled for tomorrow and Monday – and then we repeat that process throughout this entire program. 

As members know, we will follow the JCVI advice guidance on priority delivery of the vaccine.  The vaccine aims to reduce mortality and morbidity 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 from oldest to youngest and health care workers is to cover almost 99% of vaccine-preventable deaths from COVID-19 so this is clearly, exactly the right approach for us to take.

Members know that 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 to us 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.

I am pleased to say that over lunchtime today following detailed discussions led by our Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, we 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.  I am also pleased to confirm that under certain conditions we can pack down to smaller pack sizes – both of which makes this vaccine more useable with minimum wastage – for care home residents and our older citizens.  So in effect, we can take the vaccine to them or close to them and we 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 we have which can store the vaccine in the required temperature of -70c and are located across Scotland, including in our important island authorities.

In the first week of vaccination, we will deliver to priority group individuals who can go to the vaccination storage areas and I’m delighted our local authority colleagues will work with us to ensure access to transport for staff who need it.  Working in this way in the first week of a new vaccine will also allow our key pharmacy staff to be on hand as we run the process to make up the vials into does and vaccinate, test out the data recording and clinical governance protocols and work through the pack down process for the following weeks.


So we are ready implement the national plan I set out 2 weeks ago and which:  :

  • sets out the overall policy direction and guidance,
  • provides delivery framework and service delivery guide,
  • develops and delivers a national workforce model,
  • provides national training,
  • covers procurement and logistics,
  • provides national information and advice,
  • and the tools to record data about vaccinations when they take place.

Locally, NHS Boards own delivery planning is well underway putting in place local recruitment and deployment of staff, with their local authority partners identifying locations that are accessible and  as local as possible and securing the support they need including from the national support we are receiving from the armed services, to set up and manage those local centres in a COVID safe way.

As other vaccines that have come through the MHRA authorization and JCVI guidance process we will flex our planning and delivery to take account of any necessary changes. But, on the basis that we receive the vaccine supply that we expect when we expect it, we should be able to vaccinate, the first phase by spring of next year. The rest of the adult population will follow as quickly as possible.

Our workforce planning and recruitment is on track to secure the 2000 vaccinators and support staff we need by the end of January.  An existing core of trained and experienced vaccinators from the flu programme will transition over the COVID vaccination over this month and next, 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.

All of this work for next week and the weeks beyond, will be overseen by me and senior officials and I am delighted that Cllr Stuart Currie will join us from COSLA to ensure we can maximise the input and expertise our local authority colleagues bring to the nationwide exercise.

As we progress in what will be a fast paced exercise, we will as the First Minister said make every effort to keep members updated on both the national picture and their local arrangements making initial information available from next week.  My colleague Joe Fitzpatrick as Public Health Minister will oversee that and take on the additional work of responding to nay local issues members raise.

A significant part of that information will be on the safety and efficacy of this vaccine and the others to follow.  But let me be clear, in the MHRA 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. 

We will over the coming weeks be issuing clear information to the public not only on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine but on our delivery plans nationally and importantly locally.  We need as best we can given the caveats I’ve set out on delivery and vaccine properties, to be clear in our plans so everyone knows what to expect and when they are likely to receive their invitation to be vaccinated.

Presiding Officer, a vaccination programme of this scale is a significant logistical challenge and requires a major nationwide effort.  But it is one we undertake with optimism and determination to succeed.  There will no doubt be glitches on the way and unexpected difficulties to overcome but science has excelled yet again to give us hope.  Now we will get on to deliver on that and I look forward to working with members across this chamber in that work.

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