Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 15th December 2020.

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The First Minister:

I will come on to the specific questions about the vaccine in a moment, because there are well-understood processes for deciding prioritisation within any vaccination programme. However, on the broader issues, I am aware of the research that was published in

The Lancet.

Those findings are not new. We have been aware for most of the past 10 months that the virus has a disproportionate impact on people living in deprived areas and that it also has a disproportionate impact when it comes to people becoming seriously ill, being hospitalised, going into intensive care and perhaps dying.

What have not been fully understood, and what we are still developing our understanding of, are the reasons for that. That is true also of the impact in some of our black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The developing understanding suggests that it is less to do with clinical issues and more to do with societal circumstances that are exactly the factors that Richard Leonard alluded to: housing conditions and the broader conditions in particular areas.

A lot of work is going on as we continue to try to understand that, but, right from the start of the pandemic—or almost from the start—we have tried to factor those issues into our responses. Much of the work that we have done to provide additional financial support has been geared towards those living in poverty and conditions of deprivation. In short, we take the issues extremely seriously, as we do all aspects of the virus, and we will continue to ensure that our response is both tailored accordingly and flexible as our understanding of all those factors continues to develop.

My answer to the vaccine question is probably slightly more complicated. The Government does not decide unilaterally what the order of priority for vaccination is; we follow the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. That is the case for all vaccination programmes, and it is the case for the Covid vaccination programme. The committee has put forward an order of priority that is based on clinical risk, and the first group is all populations over the age of 50. It is estimated that, by the time they are vaccinated, more than 90 per cent of preventable deaths will have been covered.

Again, I am not going to go too deeply into clinical territory, because I am obviously not a clinician. However, one of the reasons for that is that, although we appear to know that the vaccines suppress illness in people who are clinically most at risk—certainly, we know that about the one that has been authorised so far—we do not yet understand their impact on transmission from one person to another. That is another reason why we have to carefully follow the recommendations that are put forward by the experts. Of course, we will continue to promote uptake of the vaccine among the eligible groups, and we will continue to adapt our programme should the scientific advice suggest that that is appropriate.