Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for Health and Social Services.
Today, Public Health Wales has published the second weekly data set on the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered across Wales. As at 8am on 27 December, 35,335 vaccinations had been administered by Welsh health boards. This is within the first 3 weeks of the vaccination programme and with a vaccine with characteristics that create logistical challenges – an admirable job by the Welsh NHS.
Comparisons are naturally being made on the number of vaccinations administered by the four nations of the UK. The latest data has been published today. Whilst I recognise the data indicates there are other nations ahead of us, the national data presented at this very early stage of the vaccination roll out should be considered provisional and a snapshot of ongoing activity. We know, for example, that there will be lags in data entry. There are likely to be small differences between nations and figures for each country may be disproportionately impacted by any delivery or data issues within countries.
There are also local factors we expect to have contributed to the figures at this early stage. For example the vaccination centre in Cardiff and the Vale was unable to operate for 2 days because of a virus outbreak linked to the site.
We have been building a vaccination infrastructure from scratch and health boards have had to upscale over the past month. Daily vaccination rates are increasing across Wales and, looking ahead, all health boards are preparing for significant expansion in capacity from the beginning of January, with the coming on-stream of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccine will be offered in some GP surgeries from Monday. Health boards are also increasing capacity now that foundations have been laid – with one doubling appointments next week as a result of increased staff capacity and having made efficiencies, as staff have become more experienced in handling the vaccine. Vaccination centres have increased from 14 to 22 and many more immunisers are also being deployed over the coming weeks, with some areas doubling capacity.
We have taken great care to ensure we minimise waste in spite of the very challenging storage and distribution requirements of the Pfizer vaccine. To date, with over 35,000 doses administered, fewer than 1% of doses have been unable to be used. This is testament to the efforts of pharmacy and nursing professionals at our vaccination centres.
This is only the very beginning of what will be a programme spanning many months. Whilst the urgency and priority required is clear to all; we must also have some patience and allow the NHS to do what it does so well. My focus, and that of the NHS, is on delivering the vaccine programme quickly but also effectively, safely and equitably.
Next week we will see the launch of the next stage of the programme and I will update Members fully on our plans for deployment then.
In the meantime, I wanted to inform Members of my decision to follow the advice of the four UK Chief Medical Officers to prioritise first doses, to up to 12 weeks from first dose to re-appointment. Second dose appointments given from tomorrow will be within 12 weeks from the first dose, which means capacity should be reappointed to first doses.
We are following the latest scientific advice as we have throughout the pandemic. Having studied evidence on both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that we should prioritise giving as many people in at-risk groups their first dose, rather than providing two doses in as short a time as possible.
The four CMOs agree with the JCVI that at this stage of the pandemic prioritising the first doses of vaccine for as many people as possible on the priority list will protect the greatest number of at risk people overall in the shortest possible time. It will ensure that more at-risk people are able to get protection from a vaccine in the coming weeks and months, reducing deaths and starting to ease pressure on our NHS.
The JCVI’s independent advice is that this approach will maximise the benefits of both vaccines. We are acting quickly on the updated advice from the JCVI, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and UK CMOs.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.