Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services
The long term response to the Covid-19 pandemic requires a safe and effective vaccine to be available for all. The UK Government Covid Vaccine Taskforce, has been leading work on funding and procuring vaccines for the UK. Over a number of months, we have been closely engaged with them and other key stakeholders to monitor progress on their development.
During this period we have established governance arrangements at a UK and all-Wales level with a range of partner organisations and stakeholders to work through the deployment and logistical issues for when a vaccine becomes available.
Since May 2020 officials from all four UK nations have taken part in UK Covid-19 Vaccine Programme board to share expertise and intelligence. This operational delivery group has taken forward a number of work streams to address areas of UK wide work and reports to the UK Vaccine Task Force (VTF). Dr Gill Richardson (Senior Professional Advisor to the CMO) is the SRO for Wales who attends a dedicated weekly meeting with other nations.
In parallel with UK wide engagement, the Wales Covid-19 Vaccine Delivery Programme Board was set up on the 4 June. This is led by Welsh Government with membership from stakeholders across the health and care system. Representation includes all health boards and trusts, WLGA, Public Health Wales, professional leads, the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, health and social care professional groups and patient representation through the third sector. The board identified ‘Once for Wales’ workstreams include planning and delivery; workforce surge recruitment, registration, training and mobilisation; disease surveillance; vaccine storage, distribution and safety monitoring; communications & marketing; infection prevention and control, including PPE, digital solutions, consumables and vaccine efficacy.
As part of the preparation in Wales, the Chief Medical Officer has written to all Health Boards and Trusts in July to ask them, with key partners, to establish groups to rapidly progress local plans for delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine. In August the CMO wrote again for a further update.
Each plan has been subject to review and assessment to ensure each Health Board and Trust has appropriate facilities and equipment to receive, store, prepare and administer vaccines in a safe and controlled manner and plans for rapid deployment through a variety of means (mass immunisation, mobile, occupational and wider primary care).
The Chief Medical Officer will shortly write again to Health Boards and Trusts to give national direction to the implementation of the vaccination programme.
I have met, on two occasions this month, with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the other devolved Health Ministers to discuss recent developments on the Covid vaccine and ensure alignment across the whole of the UK on vaccine deployment.
It is important to recognise however, that none of the vaccines which have been procured by the UK Government have received the necessary regulatory approval. The UK Government has secured contracts to up to 350 million vaccines doses through agreements with six separate vaccine developers. This includes the agreement with Pfizer/BioNTech of which 40 million doses of their vaccine have been secured on behalf of the UK. If approved, Wales will receive its population share under the Barnett formula (4.78%). Once we know whether the vaccine meets robust safety standards, only then can the medicines regulator consider whether it can be made available to the public.
From our ongoing discussions we are aware of the significant challenges of storing, distributing and handling a novel vaccine of this type. In particular its need for storage at very low temperatures. As more information becomes available, Health Board plans are being adapted to ensure they are sufficiently robust for NHS Wales to respond to those challenges.
If approved, there will be limited supplies of this vaccine at first, so it will be offered to those at highest risk. I have already decided that priority for initial distribution of any new vaccine will be determined in accordance with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. The JCVI is expected to update its advice on priority categories before the end of this month.
I am grateful for all the hard work that has been done in the service to date to get Wales ready to deploy a much needed vaccine. I am pleased to report that all NHS organisations in Wales have embraced the challenge presented to them and are at advanced stage of planning for the arrival of a vaccine, this includes undertaking Wales-wide simulation exercises to test our distribution and storage arrangements and to ensure we can get vaccine safely to every part of Wales. Military planning expertise is assisting to support advanced logistical and operational delivery through a balanced programme portfolio, including live testing exercises.
Once regulatory approval is received our health and social care staff in Wales stand ready to begin a vaccination programme for the people of Wales.