Nicola Sturgeon hailed the Covid vaccine as the “beginning of the end” of the pandemic as she announced the first jabs are to be administered on Tuesday.
The first Scots to be immunised against the deadly disease will receive the first of the two-jabs course in six days with the second coming in the New Year.
The Army, health boards and councils will work together to deliver the vaccination programme, a task Ms Sturgeon described as the “biggest logistical peacetime challenge that the country will have ever undertaken”.
Over the next few months the aim is to distribute the vaccine to more than four million adults across the country with those most in need getting the treatment first.
Those charged with giving the vaccine to others will be the first to receive the course, which requires two doses between 21 and 28 days apart.
The programme will then follow the independent advice received from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which recommends prioritising those with the greatest clinical need – including those aged over 80, and health and social care workers.
Today does feel like it may well be the beginning of the end of this horrible experience. For that reason, I am sure I am far from the only one this morning who feels a lightness of heart that I haven’t felt for some time.”
Ms Sturgeon said the target is still to extend the programme to less vulnerable groups by the spring.
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon described the UK becoming the first country in the world to approve the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, as the “best news” heard since the pandemic began nine months ago.
Joining the First Minister today is Scotland’s Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith. https://t.co/lc62atvObh
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) December 2, 2020
Storage temperature a key factor
The vaccine, which must be stored at well below freezing, will be transported to 23 locations around the country in temperature-controlled lorries.
Despite the challenges in distributing to remote areas, Ms Sturgeon said every part of Scotland would get “fair access” to the medicine.
Ms Sturgeon said that, with other vaccines in the pipeline for approval, the programme would use all the supplies available when they are ready.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith said different vaccines would have different characteristics, which may determine how and where they are deployed to make sure people benefit from them in the most effective manner.
But Ms Sturgeon warned that the ultra-low temperatures required for the approved vaccine meant there is “still a question” about how easy it would be to take the jabs to the people as opposed to bringing them to the treatment.
The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine gained approval on the day that saw Scotland record more than 250 coronavirus deaths in a week.
Figures released by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed there were 252 fatalities registered when Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate between November 23 and November 29, an increase of six from the previous week.
As of Sunday, a total of 5,634 such deaths have been registered in Scotland.
Asked about combating the “anti-vaxxer” movement, Ms Sturgeon said there are no plans to introduce sanctions against those who refuse the jabs “at this stage”. She argued that a campaign persuading people to take the treatment voluntarily was the way forward.
The jab has been shown in studies to be 95% effective and works in all age groups.
She also warned that the good news was not a reason for people to drop their guards during the Christmas period, especially when the vaccine was just around the corner.
“Today is genuinely a good day. We’re not at the end of the pandemic yet… we cannot and must not ease up in our efforts to control it,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“But today does feel like it may well be the beginning of the end of this horrible experience.
“For that reason, I am sure I am far from the only one this morning who feels a lightness of heart that I haven’t felt for some time.”
Vaccine plan call
The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, enough to vaccinate 20 million people, with about 10 million doses expected to be available for use in the UK shortly. Scotland will receive its population share.
The Scottish Conservatives attacked the Scottish Government for not publishing its vaccine rollout plan or making an urgent statement on the treatment to Holyrood.
Tory Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said: “MSPs have legitimate and essential questions to ask on behalf of their constituents regarding how and when this vaccine will be delivered across Scotland.
“The public needs to hear answers from the First Minister and the plans have to be scrutinised fully by Parliament to avoid any pitfalls, such as the postcode lottery that occurred with the flu jab rollout this year.
“The first vaccine will be delivered in less than a week, so it’s deeply disappointing to reject an urgent statement when this is plainly urgent.”
Ms Davidson added: “For everyone out there wondering when their elderly relatives in care homes will get the vaccine, nothing is more important, and the government needs to start treating it with the urgency it deserves.”