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Coronavirus

Second COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Wales

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The second COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled-out across Wales from today [Monday 4 January] with at least 40,000 doses available within the first 2 weeks.

Last week [Wednesday 30 December] the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) authorised the AstraZeneca vaccine as safe and effective following stringent clinical trials – just 3 weeks after the first coronavirus vaccine, Pfizer BioNTech, was approved for use across the UK.

The Welsh Government and NHS Wales have been preparing for the vaccinations’ approvals and delivery since June.

The UK Government has procured vaccines on behalf of the four nations and around 100m of these are of the AstraZeneca vaccine – formerly known as Oxford AstraZeneca – 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. This is a change from previous advice for both vaccines of a four week gap between doses, as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that as many people as possible in the top priority groups should sequentially be offered a first vaccine dose as the initial priority.

The recommendation to prioritise the first dose will allow protection to more people in the priority groups at a time when COVID is still spreading in Wales.

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 and the AstraZeneca vaccine will enable more.

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Latest figures to end of Sat 27th December show that over 35,000 people have received the first dose of the vaccine within just 3 weeks of the start of the vaccination programme.

Every health board in Wales will receive their allocation in proportion to the size of its priority population and ability to deliver, as outlined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s prioritisation list.

Unlike the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, the 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.

Correspondence will come from local health boards and the vaccine is free of charge through the NHS. People are warned to be alert to scams asking for money or personal information.

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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 others 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.

Welsh Health Minister, Vaughan Gething MS

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said: “Today marks a key milestone in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been called a ‘game changer’ and this is true – its potential should not be underestimated. 

“In less than a month Wales’ NHS has mobilised the largest vaccination programme our country has ever seen and so far more than 35,000 people have received their first dose.

“Now, only 5 days since regulatory approval of the new vaccine for use in the UK, a second vaccine is here and ready for use, significantly adding to Wales’ defences in the face of coronavirus and protecting our most vulnerable.”

Senior Responsible Officer for Wales’ COVID-19 Vaccine Programme Dr Gillian Richardson said: “It is fantastic news that there is now a second vaccine to help protect our communities’ most vulnerable from the harms of COVID-19.

“Pace will be governed by supply, which will start slowly this week but build vastly over the coming weeks and months. However, vaccinations are happening in GP surgeries from today and we will also see an increase in our vaccination centres over the course of this month.

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“It is so important that people continue to wait their turn for the vaccine – you will be contacted when your time comes. Please do not contact your GP or local pharmacy and add unnecessary pressures to their workload.”


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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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