SNP's over-70s vaccine target a 'big ask', GPs warn despite Scotland getting almost a million doses

Simon Johnson
·4-min read
A member of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard carries in supplies as part of the preparations setting up a mass Covid vaccination centre at the P and J Live Arena in Aberdeen - PA
A member of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard carries in supplies as part of the preparations setting up a mass Covid vaccination centre at the P and J Live Arena in Aberdeen - PA

Nicola Sturgeon's target to vaccinate all over-70s by the middle of next month is a "big ask" unless mass vaccination centres open and run at "full steam", GPs have warned.

Dr Andrew Buist, chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee, said vaccine supply to doctors' surgeries had started to improve but it was still only coming through "in small amounts" of around 100 doses a time.

He expressed confidence that a target to vaccinate all the over-80s by Feb 5 would be met, but warned that the next major milestone of completing all over-70s by mid-February could be missed.

With only 10 days between the two deadlines, and 580,000 people to be vaccinated, he said GPs could not complete the group on their own and would need mass vaccination centres "up and running" at full capacity.

His warning came as government sources disclosed 984,000 doses have now been handed over to SNP ministers from the UK supplies, with only 437,000 having been administered and more than half a million unused.

Official figures showed a further 22,498 Scots received their first dose on Monday, a slight drop on the daily peak of 25,327 recorded a week ago.

This included 11,776 people aged over 80, meaning 51 per cent of that cohort has been completed compared with around 80 per cent across the UK.

Although SNP ministers have claimed their decision to focus more on vaccinating care homes is behind the slower progress, only 38 residents were treated on Monday.

Ms Sturgeon this week suggested a "data lag" could be behind the record low of 11,365 vaccinations conducted on Sunday, but the Scottish Conservatives said the low figure reported for Monday showed this was "absolute nonsense."

Tory leader Douglas Ross is Dr Buist's "big ask" warning confirmed "our concerns that the SNP are way off the pace and their own targets are in jeopardy."

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said the SNP government's explanations for the slower roll-out "simply do not add up" and 140,000 more Scots would have been vaccinated if the roll-out was proceeding at the same pace as England.

The UK Government has already opened 50 mass vaccination centres in England after another 33 opened on Monday, including in the Blackpool Winter Gardens.

In contrast, only the NHS Louisa Jordan temporary hospital in Glasgow has conducted mass vaccinations in Scotland. Four more sites, including the Edinburgh International Conference Centres, are being set up but are not due to open until next month.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney arrive for First Minister's Questions (FMQs) in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh - PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney arrive for First Minister's Questions (FMQs) in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh - PA

John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, insisted Scotland was on track to meet the over-70s target and said "in the fairly near future vaccination should start to significantly reduce the number of people who die from Covid."

But Dr Buist told BBC Radio Scotland: "Capacity of the vaccinators really need to kick in there, and we need the mass vaccination centres to be operating at full steam at that point, because general practice cannot do this on our own.

"We need to get these mass vaccination centres up and running in order to meet this target of priority groups three and four by the middle of February, that’s going to be a big ask.”

He said he was 70 per cent confident that the 190,000 people aged over 75 would be vaccinated by the mid-February deadline.

However, he declined to give any assurances over the 280,000 people aged 70 to 75 or the 110,000 ”extremely clinically vulnerable” Scots, who are supposed to be completed at the same time.

Mr Swinney denied there were more than 500,000 unused doses "in our hands" and claimed the SNP government was drawing down its allocation as soon as they became available.

But Mr Ross said: "The SNP have hundreds of thousands of doses sitting in storage, ready to be used, but they're failing to deliver. The pace should be picking up, not standing still."

Mr Rennie said: "The Deputy First Minister's denial that there are excess supplies of vaccine in storage is beyond belief.

"Two weeks ago the Health Secretary admitted there were 200,000 in storage but now the government claims they have used almost all of them."