FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon says storage issues might cause vaccine wait for care home residents

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Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed the low temperature needed to store the first available Covid vaccine will mean it cannot be transported to care homes.

At First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon was quizzed on the government's plans for rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that needs to be stored at a temperature of -70C to remain effective.

Ruth Davidson, Scottish Conservative group leader in Holyrood, asked where the 23 freezers required would be located around Scotland and where people would be able to be vaccinated as GP surgeries had been ruled out.

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The Pfizer vaccine might not be given to care home residents first.The Pfizer vaccine might not be given to care home residents first.
The Pfizer vaccine might not be given to care home residents first.

She said: “Many care home residents are too frail or vulnerable to be transported to the hubs where vaccines are. Care home residents and their families have suffered enough through this pandemic and the probability that promised vaccines could be delayed is yet another blow. So what is the plan for care home residents who were told they would be first in the queue to receive this vaccine?”

Ms Sturgeon said the government would publish a list of locations of vaccine freezers, which would be “sited in NHS board vaccine deployment centres in every NHS board”.

She said 65,5000 doses of the vaccine were expected to be available by next Tuesday, but admitted the one issue “not certain, and subject to ongoing discussion” was the ability to move the vaccine from ultra-low temperatures to care homes.

“While that may not be possible immediately it’s something we hope will become possible very soon,” she said.

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"There’s no issue more important to this government than making sure this vaccine programme works effectively and efficiently.”

Pointing to a statement by Boris Johnson, she said the issue of vaccinating care home residents was not one solely for Scotland.

“This is not in any way unique to Scotland,” she said. “It’s about the particular characteristics of this vaccine and the ultra-low temperature it has to be stored at, as well as a requirement for two different agents to be mixed together.

“I took part in a four-nations call last night and this was one of the issues under discussion. We will use vaccines as soon as they come available as closely as possible in line with the order of prioritisation the JCBI have set out. If for the first period it’s difficult to get the vaccine to care homes, we will use these supplies for NHS and staff who work in care homes.

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“Even though this may not be possible for this vaccine to be moved to care homes immediately, I remain hopeful that will become possible at an early stage and we will have greater clarity on that in the days to come.”

Ms Davidson also asked about a “longer term plan” as she said the health secretary had changed the timetable for how long it would take for everyone to be vaccinated. She said it had “changed that to waves one and two and only after spring would there be a move to vaccinate people under 65”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We very much hope that what the health secretary set out in Parliament is what we will deliver, that's what we’re working towards.”

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