Assurances have been made that rural areas such as Shetland will not be left behind when the first doses of a Covid-19 vaccine are administered next week.
The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today announced that doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine would be available across Scotland from Tuesday, following its authorisation by the regulator.
Although there remains some uncertainty over the exact date in Shetland – assurances have been offered that islands will receive a “fair distribution” of the vaccine.
Ms Sturgeon said: “It is without a shadow of doubt the best news that we’ve heard since this pandemic started all those months ago,” she said.
“Today is genuinely a good day. We’re not at the end of this yet and, of course, we cannot and must not let up on our efforts to control it.
“But today does feel like it may well be the beginning of the end of this horrible experience.
“For that reason, I’m sure I’m far from the only one who feels a lightness of heart that I haven’t felt in quote some time.”
The first doses will go to those who are carrying out the vaccinations, followed by other health and social care workers .
Those deemed most clinically vulnerable, such as elderly care home residents, are also in line for the first phase of the roll-out.
However, due to the need to store the Pfizer vaccine at -70C, questions have been asked as to whether rural areas may not receive the doses as quickly as urban areas, due to transportation issues.
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnson issued a statement this morning, welcoming the vaccine news, but also calling for the roll-out to take into account the challenges of delivering the vaccine to island and rural communities.
Chief medical officer Gregor Smith gave assurances at today’s briefing that the infrastructure was in place to ensure the vaccine would be deployed “right across Scotland”.
“It doesn’t matter whether to are in a rural area or an urban area,” he said.
“The hospital sites across every board area have been supplied with these ultra low temperature freezers.
“So every health board has the ability to store the vaccine and will be able to provide it to their local populations.
“And my expectation is that, barring any logistical hitches, we will be able to deploy those vaccines next week at the same time.”
However, when quizzed further about reaching islands, in particular, Dr Smith conceded the logistics were “complex and huge”.
He highlighted the prospect of different vaccines which were expected to be approved in the near future, which are easier to store and transport.
Dr Smith also acknowledged it may take longer to determine how doses could be transported within communities, for instance to reach care home residents.
Everyone receiving this form of the vaccine will need to take two doses 21-28 days apart, which will mean the first people to complete it will do so in the early New Year.
It will take longer for the vaccine to be rolled out across the wider population.
Ms Sturgeon said the military had been brought in to help with its deployment.
She described it as the the “biggest logistical peacetime challenge this nation has ever taken”
Addressing concerns raised by some that the vaccine had been approved too quickly, Ms Sturgeon and Dr Smith both insisted it was safe and encouraged everyone entitled to it to take it without hesitation.
Whilst welcoming the prospect of greater normality returning, they also reminded folk to stick with the guidance in the meantime.