Difficulties in many areas of Scotland on the first day of this year’s flu vaccine programme have led to questions being asked about whether Scotland will be able to deliver a universal covid vaccine.
A series of MSPs raised concerns in parliament about significant problems in different parts of Scotland with people being able to get their flu jab.
The programme, which officially kicks off today, is being extended to include people aged between 55 and 64 for the first time, as well as carers and those sharing a home with people who were previously advised to shield because of their risk of contracting Covid 19.
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie asked if the government would act quickly in response to the problems that have already arisen:
“The First Minister knows about the horrendous problems with the flu vaccine programme in Fife. Thousands of calls have been missed and there are tens of thousands of anxious and angry people.
“There have been traffic jams at flu centres in Edinburgh, and NHS Borders has apologised for problems there.
“That should be a warning to the Scottish government for the roll-out of any covid vaccine,” he said.
“If we get a covid vaccine, we need to be ready. What is the First Minister doing to ensure that the rush this week for the flu vaccine does not turn into a stampede in a few months with any covid vaccine?”
Problems in the Lothians and Borders were raised by MSPs Michelle Ballantyne and Christine Grahame, while another MSP, Neil Bibby, asked for the First Minister to intervene to ask the Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Partnership to increase the number of local vaccination centres:
“Older people in places such as Johnstone and villages such as Lochwinnoch, Kilbarchan, Bridge of Weir and Houston in Renfrewshire are concerned that the vaccine will be administered centrally from St Mirren’s football ground in the north of Paisley, and not in their own communities.
“As the First Minister will be aware, the public health advice is to avoid public transport and car sharing. A number of my constituents who are without access to a car would have to take multiple bus journeys to get to the football stadium and back.
“Some do not want to take that risk, and some will not take the risk. Does she accept that a lack of transport is a barrier for many people who need to get the flu jab?”
The First Minister told the parliament that stocks of the flu vaccine would be managed so the most vulnerable people are prioritised, adding that responsibility for delivering vaccination services rests with health boards. She acknowledged that there had been issues in some places:
“Willie Rennie mentioned the situation in Fife. NHS Fife has increased the number of call handlers and the number of staff who are working on the issue, and measures have been put in place to ensure that the resources are there to enable everybody who comes forward for an appointment for the flu vaccine to get the vaccine.
“Some people might not be aware of the fact that we are delivering the vaccine in a different way this year because of the risk of covid that would be involved in doing it in the way that we normally do it.”
Ms Sturgeon also accepted that additional mobile facilities “might well have a part to play”.
She cited a report published recently by the Royal Society saying that progress towards a successful vaccine for covid looks promising, but there may be significant challenges around finding a vaccine that has a lasting effect across all groups of people – and then being able to make enough of it, distribute it to everybody and for enough people to be willing to have it.