First Minister ‘confident’ over hitting Wales’ vaccine target on Sunday

Adam Hale and Claire Hayhurst, PA
·3-min read

Wales is on track to have offered coronavirus vaccines to 70% of people over the age of 80 and care home residents by the end of this week, the First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said he had “confidence” the Welsh Government would reach its target despite accusations that he and health minister Vaughan Gething had overstated the progress of the vaccination rollout in recent statements.

On Friday, figures from Public Health Wales showed 30.2% of the over-80s and 59.9% of people in care homes have so far received their first dose of vaccine.

This comes despite Mr Drakeford saying on Monday he believed 40% of people 80 and above had received a jab, and then Mr Gething telling the Senedd on Tuesday that the “the majority” had received it.

But Mr Drakeford told the Government’s press briefing that ministers had access to more up-to-date figures than the ones available to the public, which were subject to time delays, despite Mr Gething later apologising for making an “an innocent mistake”.

Mr Drakeford said he had received information that 16 GP practices in Wales were already sending appointment letters out to people aged over 75, while 46 care homes in the Hywel Dda health board have completed their first vaccinations, as had GP practices in Ceredigion for over-80s.

Mr Drakeford said: “Because we see day-to-day up-to-date data, that is what gives us confidence to know that by the end of Sunday 70% of over-80s and people in care homes will have been offered the vaccine, and the vaccine delivered.

“There will be a number of days delay before the official data fully reports what has been achieved by the end of this weekend.”

Mr Drakeford said cases of Covid-19 are falling in all areas of Wales, with the country’s seven-day incidence rate having fallen from above 650 cases per 100,000 people before Christmas to around 270 cases per 100,000.

“These are still very high rates and around 16% of tests are coming back positive, suggesting there is still a lot of infection in the community,” Mr Drakeford said.

“Every day, we are now seeing cases of the virus fall in the community but we need to see that fall also happen in our NHS.”

He said there were “encouraging signs” that the number of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus was starting to stabilise but there were still “very high numbers” and critical care units remained under “enormous strain”.

But he also warned the Covid-19 variant, sometimes called the Kent variant, was now “widespread across Wales”.

“We are closely monitoring three other new variants, one from South Africa and two from Brazil,” Mr Drakeford said.

“All of these are cause for concern. We already have six cases of the South African variant identified here in Wales.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The First Minister also confirmed that Wales would likely receive “a little more” of the UK’s share of Covid-19 vaccines in order to reach priority groups in the months ahead, because the country has the oldest population.

He said a meeting with the Scottish and Northern Irish first ministers, and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, left him with “confidence” it would be taken into account with future deliveries, which are currently determined by the size of each country’s population.

Wales could also receive greater quantities of the Oxford vaccine in its supply compared to the Pfizer vaccine, with the latter being harder to transport and store, he said.

Mr Drakeford said: “In order to match the Welsh profile, we probably need a little bit more of the vaccine, and a slightly different combination of the two vaccines, early on.

“Later on in vaccination, our population means we won’t need as much as other parts of the United Kingdom because we will have proportionately fewer groups of those people in those age groups.”