Scottish Government denies drop in vaccination rate was caused by u-turn on dosage gap

The Scottish Government has refuted claims that a drop in Covid-19 vaccination figures last week was caused by a last-minute u-turn on the gap between doses of Pfizer vaccines, meaning thousands of second dose appointments were cancelled.

Ian Cormack prepares to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at Pentlands Medical Centre in Edinburgh.
Ian Cormack prepares to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at Pentlands Medical Centre in Edinburgh.

In the week from December 28 to January 3, just under 21,500 people were given a first dose of the vaccine, a drop from 35,000 during Christmas week and 38,000 the week before.

The week to January 3 was the fourth week of the vaccination rollout in Scotland, which began on December 8, and marked the point at which many of the 18,500 people who were given a dose in the first week were originally scheduled to have their second dose.

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But the Scottish Government changed the dosing regime after updated guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), leading to the cancellation of thousands of appointments.

Just 36 people in Scotland have now been given a second dose.

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The decision was made with the intention of giving a first dose to as many Scots as possible, in light of rising cases and huge pressure on the NHS.

But some healthcare staff complained that the time needed to cancel the second dose appointments which had already been scheduled meant a drop in total vaccination last week.

Willy Duffy, head of health at Unison Scotland, said staff had been told to cancel thousands of second dose appointments in health boards around the country, and had not been able to arrange first dose appointments for as many people instead.

Labour MP Ian Murray said many constituents had been in touch about “cancelled, delayed and lack of appointments” for the Covid-19 vaccine.

"If it’s a supply problem then I’m not sure why the First Minister doesn’t just say so. If no supply problem then get every possible avenue for distribution into action,” he said.

Dr Lewis Morrison, Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland, warned earlier this week that the change in dosing timetable could cause vaccination figures to drop.

He said the announcement of the change in strategy, just before the NHS began a four-day holiday at the start of the new year, “left many places with great difficulty reorganising vaccinations”.

This meant there was a “real risk, particularly this and next week, vaccination numbers may drop because of the organisational issues”.

The Scottish Government denied the lower figure last week was due to the change.

“The vaccination programme is functioning well across Scotland – and it is entirely incorrect to claim otherwise,” a spokesperson said.

“As we have always made clear, vaccination rates will vary depending on available supply of vaccine."

From Monday, the government will publish daily vaccination figures.

It comes as the community vaccination of over 80s began in GP practices in Scotland, with Pentlands Medical Centre in Edinburgh the first to administer doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

NHS Lothian has so far administered 20,000 vaccines, believed to be the highest figure in Scotland.

NHS Borders said its figure was 2,600, including all care home residents.

More than half of care home residents in Scotland have now been given a vaccine.

Nicola Sturgeon said on Thursday she hopes all Scots over 80 will receive a first dose in the next month.

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