Covid vaccine in Wales set for 'even faster delivery rate'

By Owain Clarke
BBC Wales health correspondent

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image captionAll areas of the UK are moving into the next vaccination phase, to prioritise those aged over 40

A large rise in Covid vaccine supplies means more jabs should be delivered than ever before from next week, Wales' chief pharmacist has said.

Andrew Evans has revealed that more than 30,000 doses a day could be administered across the country.

Figures suggest one million people are likely to have had at least a first vaccine dose within the coming days.

A total of 942,017 people in Wales have been given a first jab, while 124,781 have now been given the full course.

The four UK nations are aiming to vaccinate all adults by the end of July.

Ramping up of deliveries to Wales follows a slowdown during the past fortnight, largely caused by an planned reduction in the Oxford-AstraZeneca supply.

Mr Evans, the Welsh government's chief pharmaceutical officer, said supply increases would allow Wales to "continue to lead" other UK nations on vaccine roll out, with teams focused on "keeping it that way".

The acceleration, he said, could also lead to more vaccination centres being opened and, along with GP surgeries, an increasing number of pharmacies being used.

If the momentum continues, Mr Evans said he was confident the milestone of offering a first jab to priority groups five to nine could be met by mid-April.

He suggested about 20,000 first doses and 10,000 second doses could be offered each day from next week.

"There's capacity within our programme to go as fast as supplies allow," he said.

"It's been low for the last couple of weeks but it's significantly higher this week - between 150,000 to 160,000 doses - next week we could be back up to in excess of 200,000 - a capacity we know the NHS vaccination programme here has.

"We've already been building the vaccination infrastructure with at least 500 locations used at any one time and the increasing availability of the AstraZeneca means more flexibility and allow us to use it in more places."

Almost 4% of the population in Wales has been given a second vaccine dose - higher than any other UK nation - and Mr Evans suggested the NHS here could continue to "lead the pack".

On the issue of whether booster vaccines will be needed, he said there were plans being made for "various scenarios".

"We don't yet know how long the duration of protection the two doses will give. If booster doses are needed later in the year or next year then we will have a plan to deliver those," he said.

Speaking later to BBC Radio Wales, he added that "very very few people" were refusing the vaccine.

"Our uptake rate is in excess of 90% for the older groups, in excess of 85% has we come down through those cohorts. There is very little vaccine hesitancy," he said.

Responding to the increase in pace of delivering jabs, Tracy Meredith, head of mass vaccination at Cardiff and Vale Health board, said "get ready for the boom".

The health board has plans to open an even bigger mass vaccination centre, although the location is not yet known.

"We're looking at an addition, looking at something bigger, big in scale, a big space. That's a good position to be in," she added.

View from the mass-vaccination centre

There's a quiet efficiency about the process at the mass vaccination centre in Splott, Cardiff.

As people arrive, with their all-important appointment cards in hand - they are guided immediately to a booth, where one of about 20 vaccinators is waiting.

The centre has capacity to inoculate 20 people every 10 minutes, compared to four people every 15 minutes in the early days. Which means, subject to supply, 1,320 people can get a Covid jab here every day.

Student nurses are part of the effort, having been trained to give the vaccine.

Beth Reed-Gibbs said she was "absolutely loving" being part of the team that offers hope of a way out of the pandemic.

"People getting the vaccine are mainly excited, some were a bit anxious for the first dose but now they know there's nothing to worry about."

Barbera Phythian, another student nurse vaccinator, shares that excitement: "Some people I've given the vaccine to have been shielding for a year.

"So they are anxious about seeing people for the first time. But it's honestly a relief for them and they are really grateful to us, which is an amazing feeling."

This week, ahead of schedule, the centre has also been giving a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine to health and care workers.

They include Kim Nash, an essential worker for Cardiff's children's services, who has had her appointment sooner than she was expecting.

"I was originally booked in for April, so it's great that so many people are coming through... it means extra security for me and my family."

Although ministers have insisted the vaccination effort is not a "race between nations" but rather a "race against the virus" Mr Evans said the relative speed of roll out here was "a great thing" for public protection.

"If we're leading the pack we're leading the race against the virus. If we're ahead against everyone else we must be ahead against the virus - that will mean more people protected and that's a great thing for people here," he added.

He also welcomed research this week that suggested just a first dose of either of the Covid vaccines available in the UK offers significant protection against serious illness, especially in older people.

Nurse Carys Williams, who ensures the flow of people through the vaccination centres remains smooth, knows more than most how crucial this effort is, having been a nurse in intensive care during the first Covid wave.

"Before being a supervisor here I was a nurse at critical care at UHW in Cardiff. I did that for 32 years, but unfortunately after the first wave I felt that I needed to change," she said.

"It was heart-breaking to be honest, it really was. I felt that I just needed to get away after that long and I didn't feel I could give anymore.

"I feel every jab I give I think we're making a contribution to lessening the pressure on the NHS and getting us to some kind of normality hopefully, pretty soon."

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