News in brief: Minister says second vaccine jab delay ‘will avoid more deaths’
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has defended the decision, backed by the UK’s four chief medical officers, to delay giving the second dose of a Covid vaccine to people who have received the first jab and says the change will “will avoid more deaths.”
Late last month it was announced that second doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer/BioNTech jab would now be given up to 12 weeks after the first dose instead of the three weeks that had been recommended.
The move came under fire because of a lack of medical evidence to support the delay.
Trials carried out for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine jab didn’t not compare different dose spacing or compare one with two doses and according to the British Medical Journal, “trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine did include different spacing between doses, finding that a longer gap (two to three months) led to a greater immune response, but the overall participant numbers were small.”
Mr Gething said he understood the “anxiety some would feel” over the decision but believed it was “the right choice to make”.
“Each of the vaccines provide a high level of protection against harm from coronavirus. That’s really good news for all of us,” he added.
“The second dose is important because it does have some impact on improving the protection but, in particular, we think it’ll provide longer-term protection as well.
“Think of it in this way – if you have two doses of the vaccine available you could choose to give that to one person to provide them with full excellent protection, or you could decide to give two doses to two different people to provide both of them with high level protection.
“That’s the advice that we’ve received.
“That means we’ll actually protect more people, avoid more hospitalisation and frankly and honestly, the clear advice I’ve had is that doing things this way will avoid more deaths.”
The Minister also said that all front-line Welsh Ambulance Service staff will have been offered COVID-19 vaccinations by next Monday and pledged that everyone “living and working in care homes will have been offered the vaccination by the end of this month.”
Speaking at today’s government press briefing, he also indicated that up to 250 GP practises across Wales will be set up to deliver the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of January.
The Government has faced criticism in recent weeks for the slow roll out of the coronavirus vaccine across Wales, but new figures released today would appear to indicate a significant increase in the number of inoculations performed in the last week.
According to Public Health Wales, since the start of the rollout in the second week of December, a total of 86,039 people received their first dose of the vaccine, up from 49,428 for the week ending 3 January. So far just 79 people have received a two-dose course of a vaccine.
Mr Gething also said Wales has “good supplies” of the Pfizer vaccine, with 250,000 doses expected to be dispensed by the middle of February and further supplies anticipated at the end of the month.
Public Health Wales has reported 17 further deaths due to COVID-19 and 1,793 new cases of the virus in its latest update.
Of the latest deaths, were 12 in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area, four in Hywel Dda and there was one in Cardiff and Vale.
Cardiff (207) reported the highest number of new cases in the last 24 hours, followed by Wrexham (153) and Rhondda Cynon Taf (146).
Wrexham has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 851.7 per 100,000 people.
Bridgend remains the local authority with the greatest proportion of positive tests for COVID-19 at 29.7% per 100,000 tests.
£4.9 million pledged to improve digital public services
The Welsh Government is to invest £4.9 million to improve digital public services in Wales following a surge in online users due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters says he wants the investment to drive more “innovative and user-friendly approaches” to the digital offering across the country.
The funding will be directed to the Centre for Digital Public Services, which was established last year to transform the design and delivery of digital public services and will support specialised training programmes and digital squads who will work with public sector organisations and help them to drive up their digital knowledge and improve their online services.
“Digital is now a central part of all our lives and that has never been more evident than during the pandemic,” Mr Waters said.
“It is crucial that our public services evolve to meet the changing expectations of the people who need and use them, and that they are as simple to use and intuitive as many of the services we access when we are online shopping or providing our energy meter readings.
“We want people to be able to easily access the services they want through a few clicks of the mouse or taps of the screen. This means ensuring that first class digital services become the norm in our public services and this investment in skills, leadership and standards will be key to helping us achieve that goal.”
Plans for new mental health unit will go before councillors this week
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
Plans to build a replacement for a “not fit for purpose” mental health unit at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd will go before councillors this week – but there are objections.
Denbighshire county council’s planning committee will decide whether to give the go ahead next Wednesday for Betsi Cadwaladr health board’s new 64-bed unit and multi-storey car park.
The Ablett unit will be retained as an administrative building but local residents have objected to the main two and three-storey mental health unit development because they say it will impact their visual and residential amenity.
At its highest point, the development, which covers 2.8 hectares, would be 17.5m (57ft) high and some residents have also objected to the bright colour scheme of the new building.
Planning officers have recommended approval of the plans which would provide adult psychiatric and mental health services with 64 inpatient beds.
As well as acute mental health services, the new construction would include a dementia assessment unit.
Betsi Cadwaladr said the unit will represent “a new chapter in how mental health care is delivered for some of the most acutely unwell people in Conwy, Denbighshire and parts of Flintshire”.
The Ablett unit was where Tawel Fan ward was situated, the former mental health unit used for dementia patients that was closed in December 2013 after allegations of “institutional abuse” of patients.
An initial report by Donna Ockenden backed up those claims but another, produced by now defunct consultancy firm Health and Social Care Advisory Service (HASCAS), contradicted that, leaving families of those who suffered on the ward devastated.
Healthcare Inspectorate Wales carried out two unannounced visits to the site in November 2017 and said the Ablett unit was “not fit for purpose”, after a number of reported incidents at two of its wards.