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Coronavirus

Second COVID-19 vaccine given go-ahead in Wales

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A second COVID-19 vaccine has been given the go-ahead and its roll-out across Wales will start next week, the Health Minister has announced.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has now authorised the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine as safe and effective on the basis of detailed independent expert review of evidence from large scale clinical trials.

The UK Government has procured vaccines on behalf of the four nations and around 100m of these are of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, with Wales receiving its allocation based on population over the next weeks and months. Two doses will be needed, with an interval of between four and 12 weeks between doses.

At the beginning of December, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was the first to receive MHRA approval in the UK. 40 million doses of the vaccine have been made available for delivery across the UK.

Based on a UK-wide priority system, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has already begun to be administered to frontline health and social care staff, as well as care home residents and staff and people aged over 80.  Latest figures show that in the first 2 weeks 22,000 people were vaccinated – expected to be over 30,000 now. Further statistics will be released on Thursday.

Unlike the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is stored at normal vaccine fridge temperatures. This means it will have few storage and transportation issues, making it much easier to use in community settings such as care homes and primary care settings like GP surgeries.

People are asked not to phone their GP, pharmacy or hospital asking when they will get a vaccine. When someone is in one of the groups eligible for the vaccine, they will be invited to attend a dedicated clinic which will have been set up to ensure patient safety and that of the healthcare professionals.

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The effects of the vaccines 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.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said: “We understand there are high expectations and excitement at the arrival of a second vaccine. However it will take time to reach everyone as this is not an instant fix. We won’t receive all the doses at once and we have to be realistic about the scale and pace of delivery when we are vaccinating the entire adult population.

“We will not see the impact of the vaccine for some months and the pressure on the NHS will continue during this winter. It is essential that we all continue to play our part and do the right thing to protect each other.

“Nobody will be left behind by our NHS. To help the NHS to help you please wait to be invited for your vaccination.”

Senior Responsible Officer for Wales’ COVID-19 Vaccine Programme Dr Gillian Richardson said: “The vaccine has been approved as safe and effective by the MHRA, based on the same high standards as applied to all medicines and vaccines.

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 “It is great news that a second vaccine has met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the MHRA.”

Dr Nicola Williams, Director of Support and Delivery at Health and Care Research Wales, which is nationally co-ordinating research and study-set up in Wales, said: “Our research community is working hard to provide the evidence we need to fight this pandemic and the approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is an important step forward. We have two further vaccines being tested in Wales right now, with more trials due to be set up in the coming weeks and months.

“This research, alongside the other COVID-19 studies taking place will help us to not only protect the most vulnerable but also to provide the best care possible for those who become ill.

“I’m proud of the role our researchers in Wales have played in this UK-wide effort and I would like to thank the participants too who have volunteered. Together we can make a real difference.”

Vaccine specific training materials will be made available to vaccinators, in accordance with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine characteristics.

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Commenting on the news that the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Andrew RT Davies said: “This is incredible news during an extremely bleak time, especially as we should be enjoying the festive season. It will hopefully be a very happy new year though with this vaccine being a turning point in our fight against Covid-19, with it being able to be transported at fridge temperatures. The Welsh Government will now have no excuse not to roll out vaccinations to the most vulnerable in Wales and can now start catching-up with other parts of the UK in delivering the vaccine.

“The vaccine is one truly made by the UK, with research funded by the UK Government, developed in England and the different aspects of the vaccine being made in North Wales and Scotland.

“With the UK Government investing over £88 million into the development of the vaccine, the UK Government is making sure the vaccine is made available for free across the UK, buying the vaccines for each nation and ensuring every country gets their fair share.

“The vaccine also shows Britain at its best. Not only did people in South Wales come forward to take part in the clinical trial to get this vaccine approved, but AstraZeneca have made it clear they will not seek to make a profit whilst selling the vaccine to developing countries.

“I know many people will want to thank the scientists and everyone involved in making this vaccine and a brighter future possible.”


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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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