The Welsh Government have responded directly to criticism of the speed on their vaccine rollout, after the First Minister defended a decision to hold back on vaccines rather than rolling them all out as soon as possible.
Mark Drakeford’s comments made of Radio 4 Today this morning were described as “astonishing” by the Welsh Conservatives, and Plaid Cymru said that “saving lives is more important than saving stocks”.
But the Welsh Government moved to clarify the issue, saying that they were “not holding back any vaccines”.
They said that rolling out the vaccine over the full six weeks before new stocks arrived rather than all at once would lead to lower wastage rates, as the vaccine needed to be used quickly.
“The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at ultra-low temperatures – at -70°C – in two special centres,” they said. “Once removed the vaccine lasts five days.
“Every dose wasted is a vaccine which cannot be given to someone in Wales. Less than 1% of the vaccines have not been used. This is way below the wastage rates normally seen for vaccines.”
However, the Welsh Conservatives called the new message “confusing and contradictory”.
Andrew RT Davies MS – the Shadow Health Minister – said it was likely to lead to increased confusion – and anxiety – among people in Wales waiting for the Covid vaccine.
“People, especially in the vulnerable groups or those over 80, will today be wondering just what to believe from the Welsh Government, just what it’s doing, and just when they will receive their vaccinations,” he said.
“This contradictory and confusing messaging from Welsh Government ministers will allay no-one’s concerns and will likely add to their anxiety.
“These ministers have clearly not grasped the necessity for an efficient vaccines programme, and their dithering and delay highlights again the need for a dedicated Vaccines Minister tasked with this one function.”
First Minister Mark Drakeford had earlier told Radio 4 that the issue was that staff would be idle if all the vaccines were administrated at once.
“There would be no point and certainly it would be logistically damaging to use up all our vaccines in the first week and have our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do,” he said.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Health, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS responded: “Wales appears now to be dramatically behind England in terms of vaccine rollout, so to see the First Minister being relaxed about the slow pace of the vaccine roll-out here is very, very frustrating.”
The Welsh Government said that as of 10pm last night, 151,737 people had had their first dose of the vaccine – 5% of the population.
“A huge amount of work is going on to make vaccines available as quickly and safely as possible,” they said. “We’re mobilising doctors, nurses, military personnel, primary care practitioners, dentists and optometrists. Volunteers are also being trained to help us deliver this programme.
“We’re on course to offer vaccines to all frontline health and care workers, everyone living and working in care homes, and everyone over 70 by mid-February. By spring, we’ll vaccinate all over 50s and everyone at risk due to a health condition.”