Vaccine Wastage

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10 February 2021.

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Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Last week, the dedicated staff at Whitehill community centre in Hamilton had to throw out 14 vials of the Pfizer vaccine, which had been held at a lower temperature for more than five days, because appointment vacancies that were made centrally had not been filled. Each vial contains enough for six to seven jabs, so 84 to 98 people were deprived of that life-saving vaccine. That is just one centre in Lanarkshire, and there have been similar experiences Scotland-wide.

Will the First Minister please provide clear messaging that those in the shielding and relevant age groups can check with the national helpline to confirm their appointment date and thereafter check the availability of short-notice appointment vacancies—for that day or the next day, usually—to ensure that not a single drop of the precious vaccine is squandered, that the maximum number of people are vaccinated each day, and that more people can then move up the queue?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

For the reassurance of anybody who is watching this, I confirm that nobody will be deprived of their vaccination. Every adult in Scotland will be offered the vaccination, and I hope that we will see significant numbers of people coming forward to get it, as we have done in the early groups.

Wastage is minimised. The wastage rates of the vaccine, so far, are very low and we want to get them lower still. They are well below the 5 per cent international figure that is often used for planning assumptions in designing such programmes.

I cannot ever stand here and say that there will not be wastage of a single drop of vaccine. I think that most people who use common sense would realise why that is. Things sometimes happen in the distribution and administering of vaccines that make that impossible, but there will be efforts, and I know that those who are administering the programme are working hard, every hour of every day, to minimise wastage to the absolute lowest levels.

Health boards have standby lists so that, if appointments are not filled, they will fill them. I and, I am sure, others will have had emails from people who have had very short-notice messages to ask whether they could go for an appointment on the same day—maybe a couple of hours hence. Some people think that that is great, although others are less happy with that. Those systems are in place.

I am never going to stand here and say that, in a programme of such a scale, everything every single day is perfect and there are no glitches or things that go wrong. That is not going to be the case. The exercise is the biggest peacetime logistical exercise that we have ever undertaken in Scotland; the same is true in the other UK nations. When things go wrong, as happened in Fife this week, we have to take action quickly to resolve that.

We must keep wastage to an absolute minimum but, right now, the programme is going better than I could have dared to hope at this stage. Proportionately—in terms of vaccines per million of the population—the daily number of vaccinations that was reported yesterday was the highest achieved so far in a single day between Scotland and England. It was our highest daily total so far. Today, in the face of some of the most severe weather conditions that we have had in many years, we have had our second-highest daily total. The programme is therefore going well, and we will continue, on a daily basis, to resolve as quickly as we can any issues that arise, including those that Margaret Mitchell has highlighted.