Vaccination Programme

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd February 2021.

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Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

1. I associate myself and my party with the sentiments that the First Minister expressed regarding the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore. The word “hero” is overused, but he definitely was one, and our thoughts are with his family.

The Government has finally accepted that Scotland’s vaccine roll-out is lagging behind the rest of the United Kingdom’s and that the pace needs to be picked up. Yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman, told Parliament that we need to vaccinate faster in Scotland than we have been doing.

It is in all our interests that the programme works well, so let us focus on what the First Minister is going to do to accelerate it. For consecutive weeks, numbers of vaccinations have dropped substantially on Sundays, which is at risk of becoming a consistent pattern. A seven-day service was promised, and will be essential if we are to meet targets. Has the First Minister identified what the problem is on Sundays, and can she tell Parliament what has been done since last Sunday to make sure that the situation improves this coming weekend?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I will come on to seven-day working in a second. I say first that, as I set out yesterday, the Scottish Government approach deliberately concentrated on vaccinating the most clinically vulnerable groups first, and on achieving the highest possible uptake in those groups. Ninety-eight per cent of older residents in care homes have now been vaccinated with their first dose, as have 87 per cent—although we think that the figure is probably now above 90 per cent—of over-80s who live in the community. That is really important, because that is how to make the quickest impact on reducing serious illness and the number of people who are dying.

On the radio this morning, I heard Michael Gove not being able, or willing, to give a figure for how many residents in care homes in England have been vaccinated, as opposed to having been offered the vaccine. That is a deliberate choice that the UK Government has made. It is a legitimate choice to focus first on overall numbers, but if that is at the expense of uptake in the groups that are most clinically vulnerable, it is not a choice that I would want the Scottish Government to make.

However, as we see in the figures yesterday and today, we are accelerating the programme for younger age groups in the wider community. The figure that I reported yesterday was 55 per cent higher than that for the previous Monday. The figure that I am reporting today, which is the figure for yesterday—Tuesday—is 59 per cent higher than the figure for Tuesday last week was. Our figure yesterday was proportionally 28 per cent higher than the figure for vaccinations that were done yesterday in England. Therefore, we can already see acceleration; it is our job to make sure that that continues.

The health secretary and the vaccination team have been working to ensure that capacity is fully utilised every day of the week, including Sundays. This afternoon, I will meet the chief executives of health boards to hear from them the steps that they have taken to ensure that the overall pace is accelerating in the wider community, and that there is consistent performance seven days a week.

The vaccination programme is going well because of the efforts of people across the country, but also because of the public’s willingness to come forward in huge numbers to be vaccinated. I am very grateful to them for that.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

We have also heard from the health secretary that there is evidence that some parts of the country are getting the vaccine faster than others. A month ago, we raised concerns that a postcode lottery was possible, unless local data was published to help to identify and address problems as soon as they emerge.

Currently, the data that is being published by health boards varies wildly; some boards update weekly, some update in arrears, some appear not to publish at all and others update their websites every few days. There is a simple way to help to restore public confidence that the speed of roll-out will eventually catch up in every part of the country. Four weeks on, will the First Minister now commit to publishing daily breakdowns for each health board area?

The First Minister:

Yes, we will do that when we can ensure that it can be done robustly. If I am getting it wrong, I will be the first to concede that, but I think that I can say without fear of contradiction that the Scottish Government already publishes daily data that is much more detailed than that which is published in other parts of the UK. I can stand here and give the figures, not weekly but daily, for how many people in our care homes, in the over-80s group and in the 75 to 79 age group have been vaccinated. We will continue to develop that, as the vaccination programme works down through the age groups.

I will go back to a point that I made earlier; I make it only because UK Government ministers have been critical of the Scottish Government. Michael Gove could not, or would not, give the equivalent figures on how many older people in care homes in England have been vaccinated. It is important to know how many people have been offered a vaccination, but I suggest that it is much, much, much more important to know how many people have been given the vaccination. We already publish daily information on different groups of the population; information with such detail is not being published elsewhere.

We will, as we have always said we would, provide much more granular breakdowns, including geographic breakdowns, when we are in a position to ensure that the data is robust for publication.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

I thank the First Minister for agreeing to publish daily the data by health board area, which I asked for four weeks ago. That will help us to track exactly where the hold-ups are in the country.

Looking at the issue nationally, I think that the whole country will have been delighted that more mass vaccination centres have begun to operate this week. The Scottish Government’s vaccination plan, which was published three weeks ago, states that six mass vaccination sites will be

“capable of administering in excess of 20,000 vaccinations per week each”.

People understand that it will take time to get up to that level. It is projected that the event complex Aberdeen—TECA—will administer 6,000 vaccinations this week. When are all six sites due to hit the target of 20,000 per week? Does the First Minister believe that the six mass vaccination centres, along with the community vaccination sites, are enough, or is there an opportunity to provide more, as we attempt to speed up the programme?

The First Minister:

First, I note that I have not just agreed to publish daily figures on the regional breakdown. Perhaps Ruth Davidson did not hear me or was not paying attention, but I have been saying all along that we will publish more figures daily, when we are able to do so robustly.

I have also said—I do not think that this is unreasonable—that we will ensure that, overall, we do not put too great a burden on people to collect and publish data, so that they can get on with the job of vaccinating people, which is the most important thing of all.

On mass vaccination centres, there are a number of centres across the country, in addition to the Edinburgh international conference centre and TECA, which have come on stream this week, and NHS Louisa Jordan, which has been operating for a couple of weeks. Given the geographies of towns and villages in our country, those centres are not all at the scale of TECA and the EICC, but they are vaccinating people daily. We will open bigger centres as and when supply allows such throughput.

The vaccination programme is flowing well. We have been candid and have always said that we would, as we reached the uptake figures in the most clinically vulnerable groups, accelerate progress in the wider groups. Let us focus on the numbers that I have given over the past two days. Yesterday’s figure was a record high; it was 55 per cent higher than the figure for the corresponding day in the previous week and 28 per cent higher, proportionally, than the figure for vaccinations that were carried out in England. Today’s figure is another record high; it is 59 per cent higher than the figure for the corresponding day last week. I do not yet know England’s figure for today.

We are on track to vaccinate everybody in the over-70s group and everybody in the clinically extremely vulnerable group by the middle of February. We have, by any objective standard, exceeded what anybody thought would be decent uptake among the over-80s. We set the target of achieving it this Friday, but we have probably already reached more than 90 per cent of over-80s in the community.

The programme is going well; it is going well because of the huge efforts of the health secretary and the team in Government with which she works, and of vaccinators the length and breadth of the country.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

I thank the First Minister for that answer, but it would be good to hear when the six sites are projected to reach 20,000 vaccinations per week, as was promised.

Yesterday, I asked the First Minister whether she would accept further help from the armed forces, which has been offered to aid Scotland’s Covid response. She did not answer, but as she sat down she suggested that she would cover the issue later, but did not do so. Since then, the Secretary of State for Scotland has written to offer the support of the UK Government and UK health bodies, so I ask the First Minister again: will she accept further military assistance—[


.] I am not quite sure why that is getting such a derisive response from members in a seated position—[


.] I think that the people of Scotland would like to hear whether the First Minister will accept further military assistance and the mutual aid that the UK Government has offered, in order to catch Scotland’s vaccination programme up with those of the other parts of the UK.

The First Minister:

The really good progress that has been made in our vaccination programme seems, for some reason that I cannot understand, to be irritating Ruth Davidson today. I would have thought that it would be great news for the country.

We are already drawing on assistance from the armed forces, as we have been doing throughout the pandemic. There was a period last year when representatives of our armed forces were based in St Andrew’s house with the rest of the team, and I am hugely grateful to them.

However, I point out that help that the armed forces give Scotland, whether it is on vaccines or—as was the case earlier—on personal protective equipment and the logistics associated with setting up NHS Louisa Jordan, is not a favour from the Secretary of State for Scotland. They are our armed forces, too, which the people of Scotland pay for through taxes, so let us forget the suggestion that the UK Government is somehow doing Scotland a favour. We will continue to draw, as appropriate, on the help of the armed forces. Again, I take the opportunity, as I did a moment ago, to thank them.

The vaccination programme is making good progress, and my job and the job of the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport is to ensure that that continues. Of course, we will continue, as we draw on lessons from elsewhere in the UK—which we have never shied away from doing—to share our experience of having lower infection rates and making good progress in suppressing the infection. We will continue to work with others to ensure that, collectively, we get through the pandemic as safely and quickly as possible.