Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
Last week all health boards in Wales started administering vaccines to care home staff, those over 80 years and frontline health and social care workers most at risk. Just days after the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the first Covid-19 vaccine for use in the UK, NHS Wales moved swiftly from planning to mobilisation and had administered over 4,000 doses of the vaccine within 48 hours. By the end of the first week, this had risen to more than 6,000 people receiving the first dose of the vaccine, which is a huge achievement.
It is our aim to vaccinate as many people as possible, as swiftly as possible, safely and with minimal vaccine waste. As has been reported widely, this vaccine has to be stored at ultra-low temperatures and is difficult to administer in mobile settings such as care homes. We have been exploring suitable options for initial deployment of this vaccine, in line with the JCVI advice. The MHRA recently confirmed the vaccine’s stability is maintained through a maximum of two journeys each of up to 6 hours, provided it is repackaged and transported at tightly controlled temperatures. We have been working hard to find a solution where we can deliver the vaccine to care homes and be absolutely confident we can maintain the integrity and efficacy of the vaccine. This hard and focused work has paid off and in phase two of the programme we are aiming to pilot a system whereby the vaccine is transported to this vulnerable group.
This phase of the programme will begin carefully to make sure it can be done safely and not compromise the effectiveness of the vaccine. Consequently, a pilot will shortly begin vaccinating people living in care homes, which will repackage smaller quantities suitable for use in care homes, under strict conditions set by the regulator. This pilot will commence in North Wales, on Wednesday (16 December) with a further two health boards will be piloting this week. If these pilots are successful, we will roll out care home vaccination across Wales in the coming weeks, to extend the protection to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.