The impact of the Covid-19 vaccine will not be seen nationally “for some months”, the First Minister of Wales has warned.
Mark Drakeford described news that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine as “significant” but said people must continue to follow the rules.
These include keeping contacts with other people to a minimum, staying two metres away from others, washing hands regularly, wearing a face covering when required and avoiding touching surfaces others have touched.
The vaccine is the first to receive MHRA clearance in the UK and 40 million doses will be available shortly for delivery across the UK, with Wales receiving its allocation based on population.
Approval from the MHRA is the first step of Wales’ roll-out plan, which has been prepared since May.
Mr Drakeford tweeted on Wednesday: “Significant news this morning.
“Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make this a reality.
A real glimmer of hope this morning in what has been a difficult year for everyone. https://t.co/MuGMIL4N72
— Mark Drakeford (@fmwales) December 2, 2020
“Our vaccine programme is ready to go, but the impact won’t be seen nationally for some months.
“In the meantime, we all must continue to follow the rules and protect each other.”
There are still a number of stages required before people begin to receive the vaccine but this process is expected to happen over the next week, the Welsh Government said.
Stages include the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) publishing its guidance, training materials for staff and information leaflets for patients being finalised, and experienced immunisers being trained.
The vaccine, which is administered in two doses, will initially be prioritised for those aged 80 and over, care home staff and residents, and those working in health and social care.
Two specialist sites have been identified as appropriate delivery centres for the vaccine, which must be stored at very low temperatures.
Health boards will collect the vaccines directly from the two sites.
— Vaughan Gething MS (@vaughangething) December 2, 2020
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the Welsh Government had been exploring “suitable options for initial deployment of this vaccine”.
“In practical terms at this stage that we cannot deliver this vaccine to care homes,” he said.
Mr Gething said all NHS organisations in Wales had undertaken simulation exercises to test the country’s distribution and storage arrangements.
On November 26, the end-to-end logistics for the Pfizer vaccine from ultra-low temperature central storage to receipt by the end user was tested across the country, he confirmed.
This followed an initial test on November 12.
Mr Gething said all key stake holders from the seven health boards, along with partners and key pharmacy leads, took part in the exercise.
“Cold chain maintenance was maintained throughout the distribution exercise with no temperature excursions or delays,” Mr Gething said.
“All deliveries were received at the correct locations and receipt of deliveries recorded electronically on the Welsh Immunisation System.
“Wales is ready to deploy the vaccine in phases, starting with hospital sites and then community settings.”
People in Wales will be sent automatic appointments detailing the location where they will receive the vaccination.
The Welsh Government urged people to wait to be invited instead of asking their pharmacist or doctor.
It stressed that the vaccine will not be mandatory and people would be able to choose whether they take it or not, with information provided before vaccination.
Those receiving the vaccine will be given a credit card-sized NHS Wales immunisation card which will have the vaccine name, date of immunisation and batch number of each of the doses given written on them.
These will act as a reminder for the second dose and for the type of vaccine, as well as giving information on how to report side effects.
Dr Frank Atherton, chief medical officer for Wales, said the tests on distribution and storage arrangement ensured the vaccine would get “safely to every part” of the country.
“There’s still a few stages we need to work through but once all these safeguards are in place, vaccination can begin,” Dr Atherton said.
“There will only be relatively small amounts of the vaccine at first, those who have been advised as most needing the vaccine first, through approved delivery mechanisms.
“A full announcement around the timetable for roll-out in Wales will follow in the next few days.”