News in brief: Supply concerns as rollout of second vaccine doses is set for next month
Health Minister Vaughan Gething says that despite concerns over the supply of Covid-19 vaccines to Wales, he is hopeful people will start to receive a second dose of the vaccine from 22 February.
Both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer BioNTech vaccines that are currently being rolled out deliver significantly higher protection following a second dose.
It was originally recommended these doses were delivered within three weeks, but the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended last month that second doses could be delayed for up to 12 weeks to ensure wider coverage of the population with the first dose.
According to the latest figures from Public Health Wales, 190,435 people have received a first dose since the rollout began on 8 December but only 396 people have so far received a second shot.
In a written statement the minister observed “achieving our aspirations depends largely on the supply of vaccines in fair volumes and in fair time.”
Mr Gething warned supplies of the Pfizer vaccine will be reduced until March, following the decision to temporarily suspend production at the manufacturing plant in Belgium and last week there was also a delay to the release of a batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
“The vaccine supply chain is complex, and our plans are adapting constantly to changes to delivery volumes and schedules, all of which have the potential to impact on achieving the milestones in our strategy,” he added.
“The number and the capacity of vaccination centres in Wales is increasing and supplies are being increased in response. We now have capacity to administer over 60,000 doses of Pfizer BioNTech vaccine every week. From the week commencing 8 February our plans rely on further supply of the vaccine coming into the UK.
“The roll out of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has been an unprecedented challenge but one the NHS has overcome admirably,” the minister said.
“It is not only that the vaccine has unique storage and transport requirements; deliveries have been periodic, the most recent delivery of over 90,000 doses arriving only on 23 December, and until 31 December, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) made it a condition of authorisation that 50% of doses received were kept in reserve.
“This was to ensure second doses were available for everyone vaccinated. Whilst we are now prioritising first doses, those vaccinated already, rightly expect us to take steps to ensure supplies are available for their second doses. Significant numbers of second doses are scheduled for week commencing 22 February.
“Since the beginning of January, our plans have adapted to the MHRA’s revised position allowing us to maximise first dose coverage amongst priority groups. By the end of this week, all AstraZeneca supply, over 60% of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine received already, and three quarters of the total vaccine doses supplied to Wales, will have been deployed to vaccination centres, hospitals and GPs.
“Our plans to vaccinate priority groups remain on track; but as I have said they are and will remain dependent on security of vaccine supply.”
Another 46 people have died in Wales with coronavirus, and there have been 1,153 new positive tests for the virus, according to the latest Public Health Wales figures.
12 of the newly recorded deaths were in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area, Swansea Bay reported nine deaths and Cwm Taf Morgannwg eight. There were also seven deaths in the Aneurin Bevan region, six in Hywel Dda and four in Cardiff and Vale.
Cardiff had 123 new case since yesterday’s report and there were a further 116 cases in Wrexham and 84 in Flintshire.
Wrexham still has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 673 per 100,000 people and also has the highest weekly positive test proportion at 26.4% per 100,000 tests, up 26% yesterday.
Shadow Minister says patients wait for a Covid jab is ‘a national disgrace’
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Health, Andrew RT Davies, has described press reports that a housebound 84-year-old Swansea woman may have to wait up to two months to have her coronavirus vaccine, if she cannot get to her GP’s surgery, as a “national disgrace”.
According to reports, Julia Wilson from Sketty was offered an appointment for a jab on Tuesday but was told by her surgery she would have to wait for a home visit.
Dr Chris Johns, from Sketty Medical Centre, told BBC Wales: “I can give assurances that no housebound patient is being asked to wait this long for their vaccination.
“This is a massive undertaking by GPs and we would ask older patients, if they are mobile, to attend one of our vaccination clinics instead.”
Mr Davies described the story as “heart-breaking” and added “I can’t imagine the anguish she and her family must be feeling at this time.”
“Not everyone is mobile, not everyone can reach their GP, and its increasingly apparent that an urgent audit by GPs of their housebound patients must be carried out so that this vulnerable group don’t become the forgotten ones in the drive to vaccinate Wales but can have their inoculation administered mobile teams.
“Again, this is the sort of approach that a dedicated Vaccines Minister could take charge of, rather than a Health Minister tackling so many other issues around the pandemic.
”Let’s not forget, too, that it was just two days ago that the Minister repeated his pledge that seven in 10 over-80s in Wales and seven in 10 of our care home residents and staff would have had their first jab by the end of this week.”
Carers Support Fund increased by a quarter of a million pounds
A further £250k has been announced to help unpaid carers in Wales cope with the financial pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Carers Support Fund was originally launched in October last year with an allocation of £1m allocated.
The fund is open to carers across Wales, and make grants of up to £300 available for a range of essentials, including; food, household items such as furniture or white goods, or electronics such as a laptop for access to support and services.
There are around 55,300 people in Wales who receive a carer’s allowance and recent research suggests that almost 40% of carers are worried about their financial situation.
Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, Julie Morgan, said: “The pandemic has added more challenges to unpaid carers across the country and I want to thank them for everything they are doing. I’m pleased to announce a further quarter of a million pounds to the fund to help more unpaid carers and their families.”
The Carers Support Fund will be available up to 31 March 2021 and further information is available here.