The festive season is a source of hope to many, but as we approach the start of the third year of Covid times, and with yet another worrying iteration of the virus circling, we all need some glad tidings right now.
There’s a line in the carol O Holy Night, which goes “a ray of hope, the weary world rejoices”. It felt like that this time last year when scientists at Pfizer announced the data from their Covid vaccine efficacy trials. A weary world rejoiced.
That feels like a long time ago. But the emergence of the Omicron variant reminds us that despite that globally celebrated breakthrough, for as long as much of the developing world remains unvaccinated the emergence of new variants will keep happening.
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The UK, like many countries in the Global North, has now secured future supplies of more vaccine doses than we will ever need. Of course, we have to ensure we have a steady stream for people here but given the size of the vaccine lake we currently stand astride, millions of doses will pass their sell-by date before they ever make it to UK arms.
That needs to change. The UK and other wealthy nations urgently need to recalibrate and share more of our stores with poorer nations through the World Health Organisation's Covax programme.
The other problem we face is we can’t continue to run our vaccine programme with the current group of vaccinators. For the past year, dentists, optometrists, physiotherapists and a vast range of other NHS workers have heroically been putting jags into arms. But as the NHS continues to remobilise and other health problems mount up, we need them to go back to their day jobs.
Last week Health Secretary Humza Yousaf acknowledged hundreds more vaccinators will be needed to deliver flu and accelerated Covid boosters and that “the biggest constraining factor is workforce”.
That’s why I’m calling for the creation of a permanent vaccinator workforce. This would see people with a certain level of qualification but not currently in the health service undergo paid training and form part of a new class of healthcare professional.
These professional vaccinators could be charged with delivering vaccination drives, such as the annual influenza vaccine delivery and future rounds of Covid boosters.
Previously, there were many tasks that it was thought only a GP could do. Over time we have seen other skilled professionals like nurses and pharmacists take work on because they had the necessary skills.
What I’m proposing is an extension of that same trend, with the creation of a pool of workers who can administer vaccines, who understand its effects and can deliver first aid for anyone who experiences any adverse reactions.
The fact there are strains and variants of the 1919 Spanish flu still around should make it clear to us that Covid-19 and its descendants could be with us for many Christmases to come. With any luck, like the Spanish flu, Covid will diminish in severity to the point where it is indistinguishable from the common cold. Until that time, we’re going to need an ever-present army of vaccinators.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western