Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th January 2021.

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The First Minister:

I take responsibility for all aspects of the Government’s handling of the situation—I have never tried to shy away from that. Consistent messaging is important. As an aside, I must admit that I have struggled, from week to week, to know what Richard Leonard expects the Government to do; he has gone from wanting to ease restrictions to wanting to impose more severe ones. These things are difficult, but I understand the importance of the point.

Before I come on to the issue of vaccine dosage, which is important, I will round off on the first point on the support payment. We have already extended eligibility for the payment since it was introduced, and we will continue to look to do that.

On the issue of the two doses and the period of up to 12 weeks between them, that is clinical advice. I take responsibility for every aspect of the Government’s response, but I am not clinically qualified; I rely on advisers to give us the best possible advice. The four chief medical officers have collectively given their advice to the four Governments on dosing, and they have done that on the basis that the proposed approach allows us to vaccinate more people with a significant degree of immunity more quickly than under the original strategy. Given the race that we are in and the circumstances that we face, if they believe that that is a safe and sensible thing to do, it is incumbent on politicians to follow that advice.

The short-term efficacy from the first dose is 90 per cent for the Pfizer vaccine and 70 per cent for the AstraZeneca vaccine. That is set out in a letter that I think went to MSPs yesterday or this morning, and a briefing on the matter from the chief medical officer has been offered to all MSPs.

While I have the opportunity, I will address another issue about the vaccination policy that has been raised in the past two days, in order to give clear and consistent messaging. It has been suggested that people might get their first dose of one vaccine and their second dose of another vaccine. That is not our policy in Scotland, and it is not what the chief medical officer advises—unless there were exceptional circumstances in which, for example, it was not known what vaccine had been given in the first dose. The policy at this stage is that people will get both doses with the same vaccine.