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Covid in Scotland: When will we be vaccinated?

By Claire Diamond
BBC Scotland News

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
image copyrightJohn Cairns/University of Oxford

Finally, there are several Covid vaccines that look promising.

There are hurdles still to clear, but public health officials have begun sharing their plans for how the vaccine will be distributed so life can start to return to normal.

BBC Scotland has been looking at the key things you need to know about the coronavirus vaccine.

When will people in Scotland start to be vaccinated?

The NHS will be ready to vaccinate people from the first week of December - if safety approval is given for a vaccine.

It is hoped up to one million people could be vaccinated by the end of January - if there are no delays.

All going well, everyone else over the age of 18 will be vaccinated throughout spring and summer 2021.

Who will be vaccinated first?

Everyone in Scotland over the age of 18 will be offered a vaccination. That's 4.4m people.

The UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has drawn up advice on how people should be prioritised.

It has said that the priorities for the first wave of vaccine distribution, from December to February, are:

  • frontline health and social care staff
  • older residents in care homes
  • care home staff
  • all those aged 80 and over
  • unpaid carers and personal assistants
  • those delivering the vaccination programme.

Those who meet the above criteria will be contacted in December and January by post or, if they work in health and social care, by their employer.

What about everyone else?

media captionCoronavirus vaccine: How close are you to getting one?

After these people have been vaccinated, the current advice says that those over the age of 65 should be next, followed by those under 65 who are at additional clinical risk.

Then we move to vaccinating the wider population.

All going well, public health experts say it will likely be spring or summer next year when mass vaccination of those who are not in the most vulnerable groups takes place.

But this all really depends on how many doses are available.

There are no plans to make vaccination mandatory.

What vaccines will be available?

So far, the UK government has secured access to more than 355 million doses of experimental vaccines, including:

  • 100 million doses - Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine
  • 60 million doses - Novavax vaccine
  • 60 million doses - Valneva vaccine
  • 60 million doses - GSK/Sanofi Pasteur vaccine
  • 40 million doses - BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine
  • 30 million doses - Janssen vaccine
  • 5 million doses - Moderna vaccine

Although 355 million sounds like a lot of vaccines, remember that some vaccines will require patients to be given two doses to be effective.

The UK government is ordering vaccines on behalf of the four nations, and then the supply will then be divvied up between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland on the basis of population.

What's the difference between these vaccines?

image copyrightOxford University/John Cairns
image captionThe Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is currently in the final stages of testing

Trials of the Oxford vaccine, which is being developed by British drug manufacturer AstraZeneca and Oxford University, show it stops 70% of people developing Covid symptoms.

There is also data that suggests perfecting the dose could increase protection up to 90%.

This may be one of the easiest vaccines to distribute, because it does not need to be stored at very cold temperatures.

It takes a weakened version of a common cold virus from chimpanzees and genetically modifies it to resemble coronavirus to try to provoke an immune response.

image copyrightEuropean Photopress Agency

The manufacturers Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine think the jab could prevent 95% of people from getting Covid-19.

And so far no safety concerns have been raised.

It is what's known as an RNA vaccine - a new type of technology. It involves injecting part of the virus's genetic code into the body to train the immune system.

Antibodies and T-cells are then made by the body to fight the coronavirus.

One complication is that the vaccine must be stored at -70C. It can be kept for five days in a normal fridge before it is used.

Scotland has 22 commercial freezers that will be used for storing vials at the ultra-low temperatures, but the requirement to keep it so cold may present some challenges when it comes to transporting to more remote areas.

Officials say that they do have plans for how to transport this vaccine across the country, but concede it is easier to bring people to the vaccine than to transport it to people.

So they may say it makes sense to use this vaccine in larger urban hubs and opt for a different vaccine to administer to rural communities.

Another complication to transporting it is its packaging. To get the vaccine out as quickly as possible, Pfizer has packaged 195 multi-dose vials in each box, meaning each box contains 975 doses.

Because the vaccine has to be stored at such a low temperature, it is difficult to split the doses up, transport and administer them in further away places all within 120 hours of the vials coming out of the -70C freezers.

Then there is the Moderna vaccine, which has also made it to phase three trials. It's another RNA vaccine.

Moderna believe its vaccine protects 95% of people from getting Covid symptoms.

Only 5 million doses have been secured by the UK government so far, and they won't be available until the spring.

However, it does not need to be kept quite as cold and so can be stored in a normal freezer.

And then there's the Janssen vaccine, which uses a common cold virus that has been genetically modified to make it harmless and to look more like coronavirus at a molecular level.

This should train the immune system to recognise and fight coronavirus.

Several other vaccines are in the final testing stage, and more results from other teams working on advanced trials are also expected in the coming weeks and months.

Which one will I get?

It's unlikely you'll get to choose which vaccine you get. That will depend on a number of factors - what is available, where you are being vaccinated (so for example, it's much easier to give those who live in urban areas the Pfizer jab than it is to transport it at -70C to a small island), and what we know about how the vaccines work by the time you are being vaccinated.

Scientists will be studying the efficacy of the injections as people are given them, and it may well turn out that different vaccines suit different parts of the population.

So, it might turn out that what vaccine you get is dependent on your age, for example. But it is early days - we'll learn more in the months ahead.

How will the vaccination programme work?

image copyrightGetty Images

It is a national programme, so guidance and logistics will be provided by the Scottish government.

NHS boards will lead local delivery and handle staffing.

From phase two, there will be a booking service.

More than 2,000 vaccinators and support staff will be needed by the end of January, with about a million people having been vaccinated by this time.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman says there are currently 971 vaccinators and support staff in place for the programme to begin in December.

The challenges for vaccinating Scotland

This isn't going to be straightforward.

There are some problems Scotland faces that other places might not.

For example, the diversity of the country's geography - from densely populated urban areas, to much more rural and remote areas.

In remote areas, the logistics and storage requirements will present challenges.

Public health officials have said that logistical challenges of reaching certain communities will be taken into consideration when supplies are being allocated, to avoid doses being wasted.

And then there are things to consider such as how do we safely vaccinate those in care homes who cannot travel to get their vaccine?

The Scottish government has said it plans to take the vaccine to them, and give them the jab in the homes.

In other circumstances, vaccination teams in the community might give people the jab at home.

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