Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services
Since we took first delivery of COVID-19 vaccine supplies at the start of December last year, our priority has been the need to ensure as many people are vaccinated as quickly as possible. Our Vaccination Plan made clear my intention to see all those in the four priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), offered a first dose of vaccine by mid-February. As set out in my written statement of 19 January, we are making good progress and over 175,000 people have now been vaccinated.
In the Plan, we were clear; achieving our aspirations depends largely on the supply of vaccines in fair volumes and in fair time. This statement clarifies the position on supply received to date, how the vaccine is being distributed to NHS Wales and the dependency we have on future vaccine being supplied to the UK.
On Friday 15 January, Pfizer confirmed production at its European manufacturing plant in Belgium was being suspended temporarily. This will result in reduced vaccine supplies to Europe and the UK between now and March. In the last week we have also seen a delay to the release of an expected batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, reducing anticipated supplies to Wales and delaying our plans to substantially expand our vaccination programme by harnessing the expertise of GPs, nurses and pharmacists in primary care. The vaccine supply chain is complex and our plans are adapting constantly to changes to delivery volumes and schedules, all of which have the potential to impact on achieving the milestones in our Strategy.
Since 7 January, 138,300 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been made available to Wales and delivered directly to vaccination centres, hospitals, and GPs for immediate use. I know many doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other primary care professionals remain eager to contribute to the programme. I am confident they will all play a key role as supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine increase.
The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has posed very different logistic challenges. Wales has expertise in the storage and distribution of products requiring handling at ultra-low temperatures. Unlike other parts of the UK, we are holding and managing our share of vaccine delivered to the UK, at specialist NHS facilities here in Wales. When distributed to vaccination centres all vaccine must be used within 5 days. Any vaccine not used by this time must be discarded. We must make every effort to ensure no dose is wasted. This is why health boards are supplied vaccine in quantities to meet their vaccination centre capacity and the number of booked appointments.
I set out in my written statement of 19 January the blended delivery model in place. This is aimed at:
- providing a mix of sites in order to maximise speed of roll out;
- ensuring safety,
- meeting the needs of the characteristics of the vaccines,
- being as conveniently located as possible and,
- importantly, making sure we give equitable access across the country and to all communities.
The number and the capacity of vaccination centres in Wales is increasing and supplies are being increased in response. We now have capacity to administer over 60,000 doses of Pfizer BioNTech vaccine every week. From the week commencing 8 February our plans rely on further supply of the vaccine coming into the UK.
The roll out of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has been an unprecedented challenge but one the NHS has overcome admirably. It is not only that the vaccine has unique storage and transport requirements; deliveries have been periodic, the most recent delivery of over 90,000 doses arriving only on 23 December, and until 31 December, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) made it a condition of authorisation that 50% of doses received were kept in reserve. This was to ensure second doses were available for everyone vaccinated. Whilst we are now prioritising first doses, those vaccinated already, rightly expect us to take steps to ensure supplies are available for their second doses. Significant numbers of second doses are scheduled for week commencing 22 February.
Since the beginning of January, our plans have adapted to the MHRA’s revised position allowing us to maximise first dose coverage amongst priority groups. By the end of this week, all AstraZeneca supply, over 60% of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine received already, and three quarters of the total vaccine doses supplied to Wales, will have been deployed to vaccination centres, hospitals and GPs.
Our plans to vaccinate priority groups remain on track; but as I have said they are and will remain dependent on security of vaccine supply.