A Highland MP has questioned whether the region will have enough specialist freezers to get the Covid vaccine to people in remote and rural areas.
Jamie Stone, who represents Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said the Highlands has to be as equipped as more populated areas to ensure the vaccine reaches those who need it most.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman has said 23 ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers capable of storing medicines have been bought at a cost of £125,000.
Three are being located in NHS Highland to account for the board area’s geography and limitations on transporting the vaccine.
The freezers, which have a capacity of between 101 and 729 litres, are not portable due to their size and requirements.
Mr Stone said: “The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel after months of sacrifices.
“It is essential it gets to priority groups quickly and securely, even if they live in remote and rural areas.
“NHS Highland covers a vast area and it’s important they are as equipped as central belt health boards to get this vaccine to those who need it quickly.
“These fridges are specialist and immobile and I am seeking reassurance that three fridges are enough to cover the area stretching from Campbeltown to Cape Wrath.”
He added: “Hopefully other easier-to-distribute vaccines will get approval soon but if that’s not the case we’ll be reliant on these super fridges so it’s important the government gets this right.”
Ms Freeman also said there is significant existing -8°C to +2°C refrigeration storage capacity within the NHS estate.
To support the seasonal flu programme and in preparation for the Covid-19 vaccine, 192 additional fridges, at a total cost of £210,000, have been sourced since August.
She said if stability data supports the movement of the Pfizer vaccine to alternative locations at -8°C to +2°C, this will be managed using vaccine porters – specialist cool boxes that are validated to maintain temperature within a fixed range for a defined period of time.
Additional stock of vaccine porters and cool packs have been purchased to increase capacity to support the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine, costing about £186,000.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Each territorial NHS board has at least one Ultra Low Temperature (ULT) freezers, some have more than one where their geography requires that. NHS highland, like all of our other territorial boards, already have their vaccination programme well underway.
“The ULTs are made up of a variety of makes and capacities ranging from 100 litres to over 700 litres depending on operational factors. In addition to new ULTs, existing freezers are being utilised where required. NHS Scotland will manage the delivery and flow of vaccine to ensure the supply is adequate.”