Professor Linda Bauld – believes that we will emerge stronger and has high hopes for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
By Jim Murty in The National
SCOTLAND has been dealing better than the rest of the UK with the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases and is well-positioned ahead of the first rollout of the new game-changing Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine.
That is the welcome assessment of Professor Linda Bauld, the Bruce and John Usher Chair of Public Health at Edinburgh University, on where Scotland stands on the virus and the vaccine at the start of 2021.
The professor acknowledged that the rise in Covid-19 cases in December was concerning and that the coming months will be challenging. But she believes that we will emerge stronger and has high hopes for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations for the over-80s are already in place and that age group will be prioritised too for the Oxford injections.
Bauld reminded us though that just as immediate a concern is arresting the virus and its new variant.
She said: “The UK is looking very worrying indeed and we now have as many people in hospital as we did at the peak in mid-April and we now have a record number of UK cases. I was speaking with a paediatrician colleague on radio and he was very worried.
“In Scotland we are a bit better off than many areas of England and certainly Wales. But what is concerning me and why I’m anxiously waiting to see the hospital admission figures, etc, is to see this test positivity rate of over 12% over the last two days at the start of last week.
“So what I think is going on is that people have not been coming forward for testing which is quite understandable over the holiday period.
“Fewer tests are being done, and it’s not because we don’t have the capacity, we do, it’s just that there are more positive cases out there and we just haven’t picked them up.”
There are currently 1133 coronavirus patients in hospital and 69 in intensive care.
The Scottish Government also confirmed that 11.3% of the total number of tests carried out came back positive in the previous 24 hours.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had said that there had been “quite a big jump in cases’’, although there could be a “Christmas lag” in reporting some results. And she said that the new strain of Covid-19 was “contributing to faster spread” of the virus, with a rising trend across the country with Shetland and the south of Scotland a particular concern.
Bauld echoed that view but stressed that the authorities are dealing well with the situation.
She added: “The fact that the variant spreads more easily means that you are going to get more people ending up in hospital two weeks later unfortunately.
“But we have implemented pretty strict restrictions all across mainland Scotland which do seem to work and that is not the case in some parts in England which are still hovering in these lower tiers which don’t seem to work. So we have to remain optimistic that we remain in a better position than other parts of the UK.”
The Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties flagged up its fears that the new, faster spreading strain of coronavirus could create a “perfect storm”. It said: “We know there is hope on the horizon with the rollout of a national immunisation programme, with further vaccines.
Scotland’s National Clinical Director, Professor Jason Leitch, right, tried to allay those fears.
He said: “We can double, treble, quadruple our care for Covid – the number of beds, the number of intensive care beds – we can absolutely do that.”
Bauld has been reassured by the efforts made in the vaccination programme and believes that will only improve.
She added: “I think everybody’s been working very hard to get the Pfizer/BionTech one rolled out and people have been getting vaccinated over Christmas so credit to everyone involved.
“Now that the decision on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has come it is a huge step seeing that the UK Government has 100m doses reserved.
“The bigger advantage of Oxford/AstraZeneca is that it is a lot cheaper, £3-£4 a dose compared to about £15 for Pfizer/BioNTech and secondly you can store it at fridge temperature which is a huge advantage.
“I’m very optimistic for the spring and the summer, all of us are.
“We have just got to get through these next couple of months and try and retain the better position that Scotland is in at the moment as opposed to other parts of the UK. But nothing is going to be easy for January or February.”
And she believes too that the Oxford vaccine is the shot of hope we all need in 2021.
“The Oxford/AstraZeneca work is transformative because it is much easier to transport around the country because it is much more like a normal fridge and normal refrigeration temperatures that are required.
“The BioNTech is hard to roll out anywhere because it’s -70C, cold chain and a dilution process and pack down required, which all makes for quite tricky logistics, but it is my understanding that the bulk of people will receive the AstraZeneca one.
“This vaccine is going to be the one which is going to transform the course of this pandemic because it is easier to make and easier to handle.
“This is the big hope that we have and there is nothing to prevent us getting it to everywhere in Scotland.”
And with Jeane Freeman confirming that the vaccine will be administered as close to people’s homes as possible – and in some instances in their homes – the prognosis is healthy.
She further confirmed that vaccinators delivering the Pfizer jab would also “crack on” with administering it in care homes.
Freeman said this would allow the injections which had been held back to administer as second doses would now be given to other people as their first dose.
“Because we don’t have to keep 50% of what we’ve got in a fridge, that’s a whole new group of people we can vaccinate quicker than what we might otherwise have done,” she added.
Meanwhile, in a report in The Scotsman, Professor of Public Health, Linda Bauld, has hit out at the UK government for its ‘abdication of responsibility’ during recent weeks of the pandemic.
The professor added that ‘borders and limited powers are the main constraints’ facing devolved administrations. Writing on social media she said she was ‘really worried’ about the situation facing Scotland.
She posted: “Abdication of responsibility at UK level during the most recent weeks of this crisis. Devolved nations cannot adequately protect their populations. Borders and limited powers are the main constraints. Decisions (or lack of) in England affect all of the UK – really worried.”
Last month, Professor Bauld said that any plans to relax restrictions during the festive period would have ‘consequences’. She said: “From a public health perspective, I have to be perfectly honest, I think this is a mistake.”