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Scottish Government ‘behind the curve’ on planning vaccine rollout, report suggests

Vaccine - Image credit: Fotolia

Scottish Government ‘behind the curve’ on planning vaccine rollout, report suggests

The Scottish Government is “behind the curve” on planning for the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, a new report has suggested.

The report from the think tank Our Scottish Future warns that the operational challenge is “huge”, with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout expected to be four times bigger than any previous vaccine programme.

The Pfizer vaccine that will be introduced from 8 December needs to be stored and transported at -70C and each adult in Scotland will need two doses of the vaccine within a set period.

The think tank, which was set up in 2019 by former prime minister Gordon Brown, has called for lessons to be learned from previous issues in the coronavirus pandemic.

It says that cooperation and coordination between the Scottish and UK governments needs to improve, with both governments having so far “put their own priorities above the common good”, with one forgetting about devolution and the other driving “unnecessary operational separation”.

It also says that the public receives messages from different parts of the UK and this can be confusing; that there needs to be a “coherent, well communicated operational strategy”, which there hasn’t been with COVID testing or with the flu vaccine; and people within communities that have been most impacted by coronavirus may need extra support to get the vaccine.

The report says: “Vaccinating Scotland is an unparalleled challenge.

“So far the Scottish government looks behind the curve against strategic and operational requirements known about in general terms for months.

“Coordination mistakes –‘devolve and forget’ from Whitehall combined with a separate communications agenda for Scotland – could lead to further confusion and poor delivery, which will lead to the impacts of the crisis – deaths, misery, and economic depression – continuing for longer than is necessary.

“These issues could be replicated if the Scottish government devolve responsibility to health boards without sufficient support.

“However, there is a critical month left to put the right strategy, resources and operations in place, to maximize the speed and efficiency this vaccine is dispensed at.

“There needs to be greater commitment to vaccinating a larger proportion of the population as quickly as delivery allows, with adequate resources to do so.

“Similarly the government needs to provide details of its full rollout plan across vaccination waves.”

Effective communication is “essential”, it says, for people to trust the vaccine and this must be consistent across the UK.

The report makes six recommendations:

  • Deeper coordination between the UK and Scottish governments as the vaccine is rolled out
  • A common plan for communicating the benefits of the vaccine to the public at large
  • Specific task forces to be established in Scotland to maximise vaccine uptake in traditionally harder to reach communities that have been most negatively impacted by the virus
  • Greater resources to be given to Scottish health boards to manage the rollout
  • Investment to set up of an effective centralised booking and data management platform
  • The appointment of a dedicated vaccine minister

Commenting on the report, Professor Jim Gallagher, chairman of Our Scottish Future, said: “Scotland’s governments have struggled to deal with the COVID crisis.

“The medical and economic toll Scotland has paid has been among the worst in Europe.

 “But the UK Government’s highly successful vaccination strategy – for once, genuinely world beating – presents an opportunity to turn the corner. 

“Now it’s up to the Scottish Government to vaccinate Scotland, and they need a much fuller strategy, clear communications and an operational plan for a logistical programme unprecedented in its complexity where speed is of the essence. 

“A Scottish vaccines minister needs to take unequivocal responsibility for delivery. Scotland cannot afford for this to fail.”

“We have to learn the lessons from the way Scotland struggled with rolling out adequate volumes of testing, and with the most recent flu vaccinations.

“Above all, we need a consistent, UK wide messages to persuade people that vaccination is necessary and safe.”

Responding to the paper, Professor Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University added: “This authoritative and detailed analysis demonstrates the urgent need for Scotland and the UK to collaborate to the full now that the rollout of life-saving vaccines is imminent.”

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