Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire from Scottish opposition parties over the country’s rate of Covid vaccinations, which is far slower than the rest of the UK.
The latest data showed Scotland’s per capita rate of vaccinations of over-18s stood at 9.4% on Monday, lower than the UK average rate for over-18s of 12.4%, with England close to reaching a first-dose vaccination rate of 13%.
While Scotland’s seven-day average rate had improved, its total number of people given their first dose remains the lowest of all four UK nations. Opposition criticisms intensified after it emerged that only 11,364 people were vaccinated in Scotland on Sunday, the lowest daily figure of recent weeks.
The UK government has been using mass vaccination centres, with GPs providing late night and weekend services in England. Senior figures at the British Medical Association Scotland raised concerns last week over “patchy” and slow distribution of vaccines to GP surgeries.
Defending her record, Sturgeon said that, unlike England, Scotland had vaccinated nearly all care home residents. About 90% had had their first dose, the Scottish first minister said. This was one of the most important cohorts to reach, given the much higher mortality rates in care homes, she said.
Sturgeon added that it had also been technically challenging distributing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to GP surgeries, since it required storage at -70C. The availability of the more easily transportable Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine meant that the programme was now “picking up pace”.
She said the Scottish government planned to accelerate the speed and breadth of the vaccination programme, possibly including 24-hour services, once vaccinations had been extended to other age groups.
“We are looking at all of these options to make sure that as the supply increases, we can get it to people as quickly as possible,” she said.
Opposition parties said Sturgeon’s focus on care homes failed to explain why overall vaccine rates were low or why GPs were not inoculating many more people. The two things were not mutually exclusive, said Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader.
“The first minister’s excuses on the rollout of the vaccine are wearing very thin,” he said.
“It may take longer to vaccinate someone in a care home but that doesn’t mean the hundreds of thousands of unused vaccines should be left in storage when GPs could be sticking them in people’s arms.”
While 90% of Scottish care home residents have had their first dose, Sturgeon said that 46% of over-80s had had one. Matt Hancock, England’s health secretary, said that three-quarters of over-80s had been vaccinated UK-wide, as had three-quarters of England’s care home residents.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said a pattern was emerging. “They are failing to deliver the seven-day service that was promised,” he said, “and GPs are still not getting supplies quickly enough from the SNP. While vaccinations slowed over the weekend, the SNP were debating their plan for a second independence referendum this year.”