Coronavirus Scotland: Scots given dose of Christmas hope

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said over-80s should start getting the new jab from January 11 if medical chiefs approve it.

Oxford University’s vaccine, developed with drugs giant AstraZeneca, is seen as a game-changer as it can be delivered in a wider rage of settings than the Pzifer/BioNTech jab currently in use — and is easier to store and transport.

Public health expert Professor Linda Bauld said the development will “accelerate” our national vaccination push — adding: “This is the news we’ve been waiting for.”

Public health expert Professor Linda Bauld predicted the rollout of the new vaccine would likely leave the nation in a “much better place” by spring — speeding up the road back to normal life.

The Edinburgh University academic said: “There are several reasons why this will be such an exciting development for Scotland and the UK generally.

“The first is the scale of the number of doses that could come to the UK once this is approved.

“The UK Government pre-ordered 40million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, but pre-ordered 100million of the Oxford/AstraZeneca.

“That means our concern about availability will be much reduced.

Jeane Freeman said over-80s would be first in line for the vaccine

“And for remote, rural and island communities — and care homes and other places where it’s harder to get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to people because of cold storage requirements — this can be kept and transported at fridge temperature, so it’s far easier.

“It also means we can mix and match vaccines. The Oxford team have been looking at combination therapy, using Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca together.

“That gives more flexibility so there will be many more options and we should be feeling really optimistic.”

Prof Bauld added: “It’s important now for the Scottish Government and the NHS to have staff and logistics to be able to deliver it.

“It means looking ahead to February/March, hopefully we’ll be in a much better position than we are now.”

Prof Bauld the vaccine would leave the country in a ‘much better place’

Ms Freeman said the Oxford vaccine, if approved, would first be given to people over 80 not living in care homes, with some jabs delivered at GP surgeries.

She said: “Should the AstraZeneca vaccine be approved before the end of this calendar year, we anticipate that we will be able to commence vaccination from primary care locations from Monday, January 11.”

Trials have shown the Oxford vaccine to be 90 per cent effective, with two doses around 21 days apart.

The Pfizer/BioNTech jab being given to care home residents and frontline NHS staff is logistically tricky as it must be stored at -70°C.

Ms Freeman said 56,676 people had their first dose by December 20.  Officials hope to have completed the second jab for that group next month with 172,575 more vials expected to arrive by New Year.

A prioritisation plan devised by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation means jabs will be rolled out by age group.

The first will be given to the over-80s down to the over-50s, and younger people with health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness or death.

Ms Freeman said she wants all of those on the priority list vaccinated by spring, followed by the rest of the 4.4million adult population.

Potential large vaccination centres are being scouted out in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Lanarkshire to prepare for the mass roll-out, and mobile sites will be used in rural areas.

The Health Secretary stressed that there was no evidence to suggest the current vaccine won’t be effective against the new virus strain that experts believe can spread up to 70 per cent faster.

But Scottish Government national clinical director Jason Leitch, pictured left,  yesterday warned a March-style lockdown could be necessary to stop the new variant spiralling out of control.

On Wednesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that “stay at home” advice could again be made law on top of tough Level 4 curbs.

Blanket restrictions for mainland Scotland will see non-essential shops, gyms and hospitality venues closed for at least three weeks from Boxing Day, but Ms Sturgeon suggested they may stretch well into 2021.

Schools are also shutting to most kids until “at least” January 18, with a return to online learning from January 11.

Around 14 per cent of new Covid cases in Scotland had a gene linked to the new variant in the week beginning December 9.

Prof Leitch said ministers and officials are examining ways to keep the virus reproduction rate — or ‘R’ number — below one.

He said the higher transmission of the new strain could increase that value by anything from 0.4 to 0.9, meaning each Covid carrier will pass it on to more than one other person.

He told Holyrood’s Covid-19 Committee : “That is really, really difficult. So, that would mean everybody working from home who possibly could. It would be back to March rather than November.”

Prof Leitch said Ms Sturgeon’s announcement of a Boxing Day lockdown and the tightening of definitions around “essential” retail — which means home-ware stores and garden centres will shut from Saturday — was one way of helping to tackle the new strain.

He added: “The second is putting a stay at home message into guidance or into regulation.”

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