Maria Battle, the chair of Hywel Dda Health Board talks about the roll-out of COVID vaccinations in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion.
“People are naturally tired and weary and frightened after almost a year of being under the siege of this pandemic. It`s easy to lose faith and trust after such a long time in lockdown, in the middle of a dark winter and when the media is constantly full of reports about the virus. Many of us are questioning when will this be over? When am I going to get my vaccine or my second dose? Where will I get it?
“We are blessed that three vaccines have been approved for use in the UK and two are now being rolled out across Hywel Dda. The first vaccine, Pfizer, arrived and was given in West Wales on December 8th 2020. In that first week we received 975 doses and it was quite an emotional moment realising this was the beginning of the end of this dreadful time. Because of the need to keep the vaccine at such a low temperature, and the strict time limits it has to be given before it spoils, it was decided that Glangwili Hospital, in Carmarthen, was the most suitable venue to start with. The first people to receive the vaccine were front line health and social care staff, from Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, who are putting themselves at risk every working day. We also need to keep them as safe as we can to care for us all.
“Since then more Pfizer vaccines have been arriving each week which has enabled mass vaccination centres to be opened in Cardigan and Haverfordwest with plans for centres in Aberystwyth within the next week, and then Llanelli to follow. To begin with they are concentrating on vaccinating our 24,500 health and social care frontline staff, care home and domiciliary care staff and we will make further announcements if and when we may be able to use these for other groups, as vaccine supplies increase and we will also consider opening other mass vaccination centres if and when needed
“We received our first limited supplies of the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine on 2nd January 2021
“In those first weeks, because of UK Rules, the Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine could only be supplied to the three health board GP managed practices, one in Pembrokeshire and two in Carmarthenshire. Other GP practices had to register with Public Health England to receive their supplies directly. The Health Board is supporting this and sharing our supply with any GPs who have had problems ordering, so that all our 48 practices should have the vaccine before the end of this week. This means we have mass vaccination occurring the length and breadth of Hywel Dda, closer to home and in familiar surroundings. Community pharmacies are also ready and willing to give the vaccine and we are working with them to enable this when possible and as our supplies increase.
“Subject to receiving supplies we are aiming to have offered vaccines to all care home residents and staff, frontline health and care staff and everyone over 70 or who is clinically vulnerable in the Hywel Dda area by mid-February 2021. Then all the remaining priority groups in Phase 1, decided by the Joint Committee on Immunisation and Vaccination, by Spring, and all eligible adults in Phase 2 by the Autumn *see notes to editor below
“I visited Cardigan Vaccination Centre last this week. As the lead nurse told me it was so easy to find with the large yellow road signs. There were volunteer marshals in the car park, administration staff from the local authority and the health board to book you in, nurses and vaccinators from across the region, supported by young RAF personnel. A seating area was provided for people to sit for 15 minutes after their vaccination to make sure all was well. Many of the people being vaccinated were domiciliary and care workers. They told me that most of all they were pleased for the people they care for as it would help stop them worrying. There was a similar story in Glangwili Hospital with military like precision in administering the vaccine. People aged over 80 in Tenby GP surgery car park all gave me a positive story about their experience and were very grateful to the staff.
“It is important that all the information about the vaccine, how many supplies we receive and how many vaccines have been given, and where, is regularly in the public domain. We are publishing a weekly vaccine bulletin to show this information and how we are working our way through the priority groups, you can find this on our website or social media channels and we are grateful to the local media for publishing updates also.
“The whole team, with all our partners and volunteers, are working tirelessly to carry out the biggest vaccination programme ever in the history of the NHS. We are giving as many vaccines as supplies allow in the best way possible. The programme is accelerating at a remarkable pace – it took 31 days to reach our first 10,000 vaccinations but only 11 days for the second 10,000. Our real time date, which gets checked, is showing that we have vaccinated more than 20,000 people from Hywel Dda UHB area, which represents more than 5% of our population. This will significantly increase each week until together we win our fight against this pandemic.”