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Coronavirus

Pilot of COVID-19 vaccination roll-out to Welsh care homes to begin

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A pilot for the roll-out of the COVID-19 Pfizer / BioNtech vaccine to Welsh care homes is to begin on Wednesday 16 December, just over a week after the first jab was administered in the UK, the Welsh Health Minister has announced.

A designated care home in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board will be the first in Wales to receive the vaccine, with teams in additional Health Boards taking the vaccine to care homes later this week.

The initial roll-out of the vaccine to care home staff, health and social care workers and those aged 80 and over began on Tuesday 8th across the UK, based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Wales and other UK administrations are guided by these recommendations.

There had been concerns about maintaining the stability of the Pfizer / BioNtech vaccine outside hospital vaccination centres as it usually needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees centigrade.

The Welsh Government has discussed at length with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the vaccine’s manufacturer how to repackage and transport the vaccine without compromising the standards of safety and efficacy patients rightly expect. This meant that until now it had not been efficient to take the vaccine to care home residents.

This will mean Health Boards can take the vaccine to settings with at least five residents, rather than using it only in static vaccination centres. It will take a number of days to train staff and ensure standard procedures are drawn up and validated.

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At first the vaccine will be issued to care homes in proximity to hospital pharmacies, but it is planned for the vaccine to be available in other settings in coming weeks, once learnings from the care home pilot has been captured.

The effects of the vaccine may not be seen nationally for many months and the advice on keeping Wales safe remains the same for everyone; keep contacts with other people to a minimum, keep a 2 metre distance from others, wash hands regularly, wear a face covering where required and avoid touching surfaces others have touched, wherever possible.

The Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “Following Wales’ successful roll-out of the first COVID vaccine last week, we are starting the care home resident phase of the programme carefully; however we need to continue to make sure we can safely transport the vaccine to people who can’t come to clinics.

“If all goes well this week, we will roll out care home vaccination ahead of Christmas, bringing a new level of protection to some of our most vulnerable people.

“Our NHS staff have done a fantastic job to get this first vaccine out in a safe and timely manner. I’m extremely grateful for their hard work on this and across the course of the pandemic.”

Dr Gill Richardson, Chair of Wales’ COVID-19 Vaccine Programme, said: “The delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine to care home staff and residents has always been a priority for the Welsh Government. We have been working for months to meet the challenges of distribution and believe we have a feasible solution which we will deploy at pilot sites from Wednesday. Care home staff have been offered immunisation at Health Board centres whilst awaiting the mobile model to commence.”

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“We are now very confident NHS hospitals can safely repackage and transport vaccine to care home without compromising its stability.”

As further supplies become available and additional vaccines receive MHRA approval, a staged approach will see other groups be offered the vaccine, based on risk of serious complications and deaths.

People are urged to wait to be invited, which will happen through NHS systems. Please do not ask your pharmacist or GP.


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Coronavirus

Face coverings retained in health and social care settings

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First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed the legal requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings will remain in place.

Speaking after the latest three-week review of the coronavirus regulations, the First Minister said the public health situation was improving following the recent spike in cases caused by the BA.2 sub-type of omicron.

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But Covid case rates remain high so maintaining the use of face coverings in health and care settings will help to protect to some of the most vulnerable people in society, staff and visitors.

The First Minister also urged everyone to continue to take measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus by following a set of simple steps to protect one another and keep Wales safe.

These include self-isolating if ill or testing positive for Covid-19; wearing a face covering in crowded indoor places, meeting outdoors wherever possible; keeping indoor areas well ventilated and washing hands regularly.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The pandemic isn’t over but we are seeing encouraging signs the recent high levels of infections across Wales are falling.

“There are steps we can all take to protect ourselves while coronavirus is still circulating and reduce the spread of the virus even further. This is particularly true in places where some of the most vulnerable people in society are being treated and live, which is why we will retain the legal requirement to wear face coverings in health and social care settings.

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“More generally, ensuring you are up-to-date with your Covid vaccinations and spring booster – if you are eligible – is really important. If you have Covid symptoms or test positive, please stay at home and help break the chain of transmission.

“Together, we can carry on keeping each other safe and keeping Wales safe.”

The next three-weekly review of coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 26 May.

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Coronavirus

Schools’ Covid guidance aligned to businesses and other workplaces

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The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, has announced that Covid-19 measures for schools in Wales will be brought into line with guidance for businesses and other organisations.

The Welsh Government has written to schools in Wales this morning to inform them of the changes.

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Since September last year, schools have applied measures to stop the spread of Coronavirus according to local circumstances, based on the Local Covid-19 infection control decision framework for schools. Schools will no longer be advised to use the framework.

The change is in line with the Welsh Government’s long-term Covid-19 transition from pandemic to endemic. The risk from coronavirus is now considered in the same context as other communicable diseases, such as flu.

The First Minister has announced that the remaining coronavirus restrictions will be removed from 9 May, if the public health situation remained stable. The changes to the guidance for schools will also come into effect from 9 May.

Schools and other education settings will continue to be advised to work with local authorities and public health advisors to ensure that measures remain appropriate and proportionate and reflect local risks and circumstances.

A checklist will be provided to support schools and settings in considering which control measures remain proportionate. Special schools will continue to follow the advice for children and young people with higher clinical risk and clinically extremely vulnerable adults.

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Speaking at the Welsh Government’s weekly press briefing, Jeremy Miles said: “In line with the wider public health guidance published at the last three-week review, we have today written to headteachers to signpost the impending changes to our advice for schools, which reflect the move from pandemic to endemic. This will ensure school guidance is more closely aligned with the rest of society.

“We all know that Covid-19 has not gone way. It remains vitally important we reduce the spread of the virus where we can – this includes, for example, following self-isolation guidance, and for education settings to continue to undertake robust risk assessments.”

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Coronavirus

Health board extends shuttle bus between Llanelli and COVID vaccination centre

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Hywel Dda University Health Board (HDUHB) has extended the free shuttle bus service between Llanelli town centre and the mass vaccination centre in Dafen to help people access their COVID-19 vaccination as easily as possible.

The shuttle bus, provided by Dolen Teifi, will continue to run between 10.30am to 4.40pm, seven days a week – with no service at 12.00pm from town or at 12.15pm from the mass vaccination centre to allow the drivers a lunch break.

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People can board the shuttle bus on the hour and at half-past the hour at Church Street, outside Llanelli Magistrates Court.

The shuttle bus will leave the mass vaccination centre quarter past and quarter to the hour, returning to the town centre and dropping passengers off opposite Llanelli library.

Bethan Lewis, Interim Assistant Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “We need as many people as possible attending their COVID-19 vaccine appointments, or dropping in if eligible.

“This shuttle bus service is one of many additional resources and services being put in place across the Hywel Dda region to help support more people to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. I am pleased the shuttle bus service has been extended to help people reliant on public transport to access their COVID-19 vaccine.”

On 21 February 2022, the JCVI published a statement, recommending an additional spring booster.

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Strict COVID-19 safety measures are in place to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers on this service, including wearing face coverings unless medically exempt.

A maximum of 14 passengers are allowed per journey with a screen in place between driver and passengers.

The health board say that passengers should only use this service if they are fit and well on the day.

They add that before travelling without an appointment to Dafen mass vaccination centre, people should check the health board’s website for up-to-date information such as vaccine eligibility and drop-in opening times.

(Lead image: Hywel Dda NHS)

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