Doctors leaders in Scotland have voiced concerns about UK plans to delay giving people the second dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, claiming the move could cause a drop in the number of vaccinations in coming weeks.
Dr Lewis Morrison, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland, said there was “clearly disagreement” among experts on the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine, with the second injection now due to be given 12 weeks after the first.
It was originally planned that people would be given the two doses three weeks apart, but with the UK struggling to deal with the faster spreading strain of Covid-19, leaders have opted to try to get more people their first dose.
In Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said it is hoped that extending the gap between the two doses to 12 weeks could see 2.5 million people given at least one injection by early May.
That could give all those aged over 50 and younger people with underlying conditions some protection against the virus.
The UK’s four chief medical officers have insisted the first dose of either the Pfizer or the AstraZeneca vaccines – the two so far approved for use – gives people substantial protection against coronavirus within two to three weeks.
But Dr Morrison said BMA Scotland was concerned about the situation “because there is clearly disagreement about the effectiveness of the second dose of Pfizer after that period of time”.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he added: “Furthermore I think if you give more people the first dose when you don’t know what vaccine supplies are going to be within that 12-week window, that’s a worry that has been expressed to me by a lot of doctors.
“If we give more people the first dose do we definitely know that the second one is coming?
“I’ve also had doctors say to me if they knew they were going to have a postponed second Pfizer dose they would have waited for the AstraZeneca one, which is proven to work in that longer timetable.”
He said the announcement of the change in strategy, just before the NHS began a four-day holiday weekend at the start of the new year, “left many places with great difficulty reorganising vaccinations”.
This meant there was a “real risk, particularly this and next week, vaccination numbers may drop because of the organisational issues”.
His comments came as the Scottish Government faced further calls to provide daily figures on the numbers of people vaccinated.
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon made the plea after reports emerged of NHS staff having to queue to receive the jab at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
Ms Lennon said: “It is simply unacceptable that scores of NHS staff were left queueing outside in the cold for hours, and well into the evening.
“Frontline hospital staff who had appointments were left in conditions hazardous to their own health and detained from carrying out their duties in the hospital for hours.
“There is no priority greater than the vaccination programme, and that is why it is essential that (Health Secretary) Jeane Freeman gives a guarantee to the people of Scotland that such scenes will not be repeated across the country in the coming months.
“It’s time for Jeane Freeman to get to grips with the vaccination programme, publish daily figures on the number of vaccinations available and administered, and ensure that our NHS staff do not pay the price of a bungled rollout.”
Tories said Scotland must follow the UK Government in committing to published daily vaccine figures.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “There are now no excuses left for the SNP Government to dodge publishing daily vaccination rates alongside the daily infection numbers as soon as possible.
“The SNP’s evasion to try and avoid scrutiny is nothing new but on something so important, the Scottish public must have the same information as will be provided across the UK.
“People need to be given hope. A breakdown each day on the vaccination figures, along with the dosages received by the Scottish Government, will show an end to the pandemic is in sight and provide much-needed transparency.”
Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, told the BBC’s Reporting Scotland: “What we’ve decided to do is have national oversight rightly, but give quite a lot of the responsibility for this to the health boards.
“That’s where we think the knowledge lies, it’s where the GP practices are, and the GP practices know their people the best.
“That will create some variation in how people are contacted – whether it’s letters or calls or whether they’re going to be home visits for some of the more elderly – so that will be inevitable variation.”
He also told STV News: “(The Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)) have judgment and their advice to us is to get that first dose into as many people as you can, because that will save the most lives.
“It’s a very very simple equation – you save more lives with first dose and higher numbers.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Those who have received their first dose, will get the second within the 12-week period. This approach has been supported by the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties as well as including immunology specialists.
“We have updated MSPs regularly since the start of the programme – and will continue to do so – so that they can keep constituents fully informed.
“The JCVI priority lists represents 99% of the preventable mortality from Covid-19 and throughout the delivery of the vaccination programme, we will be guided by the clinical expertise of the JCVI, the MHRA, and our own senior clinical advisers.
“The Health Secretary will update Parliament next week on the next steps and further logistical detail of the vaccination programme, and has committed to giving as much detail as we can while rightly allowing our teams to focus on the task of delivering the biggest vaccination programme ever seen in Scotland.”