Nicola Sturgeon has described the prospect of an effective coronavirus vaccine as a “ray of hope in a pretty dark tunnel” but cautioned any treatment may not provide a “way out” of current restrictions until next year.
Pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer and BioNTech confirmed on Monday that preliminary analysis, based on tests involving 43,500 people across six countries, had shown their jab was able to prevent more than 90% from getting Covid-19.
The companies plan to apply for emergency approval to use the vaccine, which has been used without any safety concerns, by the end of the month.
The first minister said the development was “perhaps amongst the best news we’ve had in recent weeks”, with an initial agreement already reached for Scotland to receive a population share of the UK’s allocation if the treatment is approved.
However, Ms Sturgeon warned there is still “a long way to go” before it becomes widely available, saying: “It’s not going to provide us with a way out of this today, or tomorrow or next week or perhaps not even in this calendar year”.
She urged people to stick to the coronavirus restrictions, adding: “Today we do have that ray of hope, that speck of light on the horizon that at some point in the not too distant future we may have scientific developments that help us out of this pretty dark tunnel – as it has seemed in the last few months – that we’re in just now.
“So, please, please stick with it, because it is helping to save lives and protect the National Health Service.”
The UK has secured 40 million doses in total of the Pfizer vaccine and Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman said a national plan for distribution of a vaccine is being developed using a “variety of routes and locations”.
Final details of what volumes of the vaccine will come to the UK and over what timescale are not yet clear, she said.
Ms Freeman added: “We’ve had quite a detailed discussion about whatever those volumes are, what would be the proportion coming to Scotland and we’ve settled on it being a population share.
“Because when we do the calculations based on where we think the numbers are in terms of priority groups, the difference is minimal.”
Will health boards be ready?
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon welcomed the “very positive and encouraging news” but called on the Scottish Government to make sure health boards are ready to receive and distribute a vaccine as soon as it is available.
“We need a robust delivery plan for the Covid-19 vaccine in the national interest, including identifying priority patients, sufficient cold storage facilities and enough staff to administer the vaccine,” Ms Lennon said.
“The NHS is under tremendous strain and will need all available support to ensure every area of Scotland can be reached, including access to rural areas and the use of mobile units when needed.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the prospect of an effective vaccine “could be the news we’ve all been desperately waiting to hear”.
“It’s an early Christmas present for everyone who has sacrificed so much over the last eight months,” he said.
“It offers a glimmer of hope that we can soon move forward and together we can get back to a form of normality, maybe even a little faster than expected.
“It’s not yet clear exactly when this vaccine will be available but I hope work on a rollout plan is accelerated and, by working together, the UK and Scottish governments are ready to introduce it as soon as possible.”