Vaccine shortages have forced the health board to knock back its target date for delivering first doses to the entire adult population.
NHS Shetland had originally aimed to reach everyone by May – but now believes June to be the earliest likely date.
Consultant in public health medicine Susan Laidlaw told a press conference today (Thursday) that a nationwide shortage of the AstraZeneca vaccine was holding up first doses.
“We would like to do it as soon as we possibly can when we have vaccine supply,” she said,
“Originally, we were looking at May time, but I think, nationally, it is looking more likely to be June or even July.”
More than two thirds of Shetland’s adult population have received at least one jab of the vaccine, leaving around 5,000-6,000 still to receive their first dose.
With adequate supplies, Dr Laidlaw said all those remaining could receive theirs within 10 days.
However, due to shortages, the number of daily first doses in Shetland has fallen to single figures on most days. No vaccinations are being carried out Sunday.
Dr Laidlaw said the supply issues were mainly around AstraZeneca, whereas the Pfizer vaccine was continuing to arrive in larger, though less frequent, quantities.
Most of the Pfizer vaccine is being prioritised for second doses, as this was the first form used in the earliest days of the Shetland programme. Patients must receive the same form for both first and second doses.
AstraZeneca became the main vaccine used for first doses in Shetland later in the programme, following the opening of mass vaccination clinics in Lerwick.
With some of the first folk to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine now due their second doses, Dr Laidlaw said the health board was having to prioritise the small quantities available to ensure they received it within the 12 week timeframe.
“That’s why first doses have slowed right down,” she said,
Dr Laidlaw said uncertainty over AstraZeneca may lead to Pfizer being used for the first doses again in Shetland.
“It might well happen,” she said.
“We always expected that it would change through time.”
Despite the shortages, Shetland had by Tuesday provided second doses to 2,684 people, equivalent to 14 per cent of the population, the second highest coverage of all Scottish health boards.
First dose coverage also remains higher than the national average
Dr Laidlaw said almost everyone in the nine priority groups, including the over 50s, had received their first jab in Shetland, with the last few expected to receive theirs next week
“So we are meeting the government deadline for mid-April,” she said.
The health board has just begun calling the first of the under 50s to receive their initial jab, ahead of the rest of the country.
Dr Laidlaw said this phase was “really quite gradual”, however, due to the supply issues.
While priory groups in Unst, Yell and Whalsay had been able to receive their vaccination in local GP practices, NHS Shetland is asking the younger groups to travel to Lerwick. Free public transport will be provided by the SIC.
Dr Laidlaw said it was a much more efficient way of delivering the vaccine, which was particularly important due to the limited supplies.
However, provision would still be arranged for those who cannot travel.
Dr Laidlaw asked people not to contact their GP surgeries asking for so-called “vaccine passports” or proof of vaccination.
The issue has been a topic of debate nationally, with suggestions some form of proof could be required for travel or even to visit pubs and restaurants.
Dr Laidlaw said the health board was awaiting national guidance on certification and asked folk not to make requests in the meantime.
She advised people to refer to leaflets sent in the post or NHS inform’s website to check the necessary information prior to their vaccination.