Written scientific and medical advice relating to Covid-19 vaccines: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Information requested

The recorded dates when any of the Scottish Government’s current, interim, former or former interim scientific and/or medical advisors (e.g. Catherine Calderwood, Jason Leitch, Gregor Smith) provided the Scottish Government with written advice relating to the potential of “vaccine escape" and/or “immune-escape variations" during the COVID-19 pandemic (i.e. from March 2020 to date).


Scottish Government written advice relating to the risks posed by variants of concern (VOCs) and variants under investigation (VUIs) has been produced in the form of an evidence paper. The following dates match the requested criteria of Scottish Government written advice relating to the Risk of variants produced by Scottish Government advisors:

  • EVIDENCE PAPER (DRAFT) - Risk of variants – 09/09/21
  • EVIDENCE PAPER - Risk of variants – 22/09/21

The Scottish Government keeps the possibility of vaccine escape in mind in our planning. It is important that we spot any changes to SARS-CoV-2 quickly to understand the potential risk any variant may pose. We have a comprehensive surveillance infrastructure in place, harnessing genomic sequencing and collaboration across scientific bodies to continually assess the risk of new variants emerging. Variants are declared to be under investigation or of concern independently for the whole UK and risk assessments and technical briefings are made available. The public health agencies do not hesitate to designate a new VUI or VOC when the evidence demonstrates this.

Our surveillance approach for identifying new variants in Scotland can now take place via several routes.

There is universal genomic sequencing (where possible) of all positive specimens as they arise and allele-specific PCR can be used to help speed up detection of variants pending sequencing. Wider surveillance approaches include sequencing of wastewater samples. We will take any necessary measures to react appropriately to emerging data. For example, data on the incidence of infection among vaccinated people are gathered for Scotland. Risk assessments on variants, including their potential for escaping natural or vaccine induced immunity, are developed for all Four Nations.

Emerging findings of concern can be assessed and escalated to quickly prepare recommendations to Ministers.

Cases and clusters are rapidly investigated by health protection professionals, supported by Public Health Scotland (PHS). Additional control measures, such as community testing, can be rolled out when health protection professionals think this is necessary.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) closely monitors currently deployed vaccines. All COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the UK are evaluated against variants based on data analysed by UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), formerly known as Public Health England (PHE), alongside PHS monitoring, who make recommendations to all devolved administrations as appropriate.

Maintaining international border controls, managed quarantine and monitored isolation remain important in the prevention of importation. COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers are additionally actively engaged in tracking variants and developing the vaccine capability to be able to confront variants as they emerge. Trials are being carried out to prove ongoing efficacy against emerging variants.

As your request relates to dates of written advice on VOCs and VUIs, you may wish to contact PHS via their published FOI route. See Freedom of Information (FOI) and Environmental Information Regulation (EIR) requests - Contact us - Public Health Scotland.

Additionally, you may wish to contact the UK Health Security Agency, Windsor House, 50 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0TL, who may be able to assist you with information on dates of written advice on VOCs and VUIs. Alternatively you may direct your enquiry to the UKHSA via a dedicated Coronavirus email enquiry point at: wn_coronavirus@phe.gov.uk.

About FOI
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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