Nicola Sturgeon under pressure over far faster English vaccine roll-out

Simon Johnson
·5-min read
A mass vaccination centre opened in St Helens, Merseyside, one of 10 new ones that opened in England on Monday -  Getty Images Europe
A mass vaccination centre opened in St Helens, Merseyside, one of 10 new ones that opened in England on Monday - Getty Images Europe
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Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

Nicola Sturgeon is facing mounting anger over Scotland's slow vaccine roll-out after it emerged her government has more than 400,000 unused doses and England's deployment was almost twice as fast last weekend.

The First Minister on Monday disclosed that 264,991 people north of the Border have been given their first dose but The Telegraph understands her government has now been handed more than 700,000 doses from the UK's supplies.

A daily average of 13,383 Scots were vaccinated with their first dose between Friday and Sunday, but this represented a drop on the average of around 16,000 recorded in previous days.

A yawning gap started to open up with England, where 750,892 people were vaccinated for the first time over the same period, meaning its roll-out was almost twice as fast taking into account its larger population size.

Watch: Coronavirus vaccines in numbers

Matt Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, said more than four million people had now received their first dose across the UK and vaccinations were happening at more than double the rate per person of anywhere else in Europe.

More than five million people in England aged 70 and over, as well as the clinically extremely vulnerable, will begin receiving offers of a coronavirus vaccine this week in areas where the majority of over-80s have already been treated.

Ms Sturgeon insisted this group in Scotland would receive appointments "later in January", despite GP leaders complaining that "patchy" supply of the vaccine means they cannot book in many of their patients aged over 80.

Dr Gregor Smith, Scotland's chief medical officer, said vaccine was "going out to those GP practices as fast as it's coming into Scotland" and that supply would ramp up over the coming weeks.

Members of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard carry out a reconnaissance before setting up a Covid–19 vaccination centre at the Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility in Motherwell, Lanarkhire - PA
Members of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard carry out a reconnaissance before setting up a Covid–19 vaccination centre at the Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility in Motherwell, Lanarkhire - PA

However, the First Minister faced questions over why hundreds of thousands of doses put at Scotland's disposal by the UK Government had yet to be used.

It is understood the total of more than 700,000 doses include some in transit or in storage in England, but which Scottish ministers could access if they wished. SNP ministers admitted the total last week was 560,000 doses.

The Scottish Government last night claimed this figure was "highly misleading" but refused to provide any other figure "in light of concerns raised by the UK Government which last week made clear it does not want such information made public.”

The First Minister was also challenged over why only one mass vaccination centre has operated in Scotland when 17 have been opened in England, some in places far smaller than Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Ms Sturgeon argued that Scotland had focused more on care home residents, who take longer to vaccinate, and she did not have to use the same methods as England to reach their shared goal.

She also said that she "broadly" has the same target as the UK Government in England, to offer every adult their first vaccine dose by September.

The huge difference in the speed of the roll-outs north and south of the Border emerged the day after the British Army was called in to set up 80 vaccination centres in Scotland.

The Scottish Tories warned that on current trends Ms Sturgeon is on course to fall around 100,000 short of a key milestone of vaccinating 560,000 people by the end of this month.

Donald Cameron, their Shadow Health Secretary, said: "The UK Armed Forces have already had to be called-in to boost the rollout because it’s becoming clear that the SNP are straggling off the pace.

“The Scottish Government have received more than enough vaccine doses from the UK Government. These delays in the SNP’s rollout cannot be explained only by prioritising care homes."

SNP ministers refused to publish daily vaccination figures for last weekend but the total of 264,991 was 40,151 more than that reported on Friday.

Challenged why the over-70s were being vaccinated later in Scotland than England, the First Minister said: "We’ve started slightly differently, but we’re all working to the same targets.

"Now that we have more or less completed or are in the very final stages of completing care home residents, we increasingly will see the pace of our vaccination in the community groups - starting of course as we did last week with the over 80s - pick up pace.”

Pressed on why the roll-out slowed down at the weekend, she said: "Inevitably, in any big programme, you will get daily variations of that but the trajectory overall should be and will be an upward one."

Ms Sturgeon insisted that the over-70s would receive letters inviting them for appointments "literally over the coming days" and repeated the Scottish and UK Government target that they would all be vaccinated by mid-February.

She said that England had only vaccinated around half of care home residents compared to 80 per cent in Scotland.

The NHS Louisa Jordan temporary hospital vaccinated 5,000 health and social care staff on Saturday, before closing again on Sunday and reopening yesterday.

However, other mass vaccination centres will not start opening in Scotland until next month. Ten more opened in England yesterday in places such as Blackburn, Lancashire and St Helens, Merseyside.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Undoubtedly there will be differences in the how of what we're doing between Scotland and England and that will be accounted for by a range of things."

On completing all first doses by September, she added: "We think that if all the supplies that we're expecting come through, then I would be hopeful that we would be in a position of doing the whole adult population in that kind of timeline."

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown