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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”