Meeting date: Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 13 January 2021
Agenda: Business Motion, Vaccination Plan, Covid-19 Education Update, First Minister’s Question Time, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time
- Business Motion
- Vaccination Plan
- Covid-19 Education Update
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
The next item of business is a statement by Jeane Freeman on the vaccination plan. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.11:01
The most recent seven-day rate of Covid-19 cases is 262 per 100,000, with a test positivity rate of 10.1 per cent. Public Health Scotland figures that are to be released at noon are expected to show that the new variant of concern is increasing in its dominance. Members will recall that it increases the rate of infection by between 0.4 and 0.7, so we face a more perilous situation than we have faced at any point in this pandemic.
Although our national health service is hard pressed—yet again, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our NHS and social care staff—we have more at our hand with which to fight the virus. In addition to a high level of compliance with restrictions and a significantly expanding testing programme with increased capacity and new technologies, we have the national vaccine programme, on which I will update Parliament today.
Between 8 December, when we began the national vaccination programme, and 12 January, we have given a first dose of vaccination to just over 80 per cent of care home residents, to 55 per cent of care home staff and to just under 52 per cent of front-line NHS and social care staff. In the eight days since 4 January, we have given a first dose to just over 2 per cent of those aged 80 or over who live in the community. The programme scales up rapidly from this week, and, by the first week in February, we will complete 100 per cent of the first-dose vaccinations for all those groups. Overall, a total of 191,965 people have received their first dose of the Covid vaccination, and 2,990 have received their second dose. All that data is based on the latest management information as of 8:30 am this morning.
We currently have supplies coming through of the two authorised vaccines—the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. Our planning scales up delivery, so we will be able to vaccinate an average of around 400,000 people a week by the end of February. The Moderna vaccine is now the third vaccine to have been approved, and, as with the others, we will receive our population share of the supply that the United Kingdom Government Vaccines Taskforce secured on behalf of the four UK nations. We currently expect the Moderna vaccine to be available to us from early April, and, as before, we will use it in line with the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation’s advice.
As members know, the JCVI priority list, which includes those who are aged 50 and upwards, reflects the fact that age is the greatest risk factor for serious illness and death from Covid, and it represents more than 90 per cent of the preventable mortality from Covid-19 in Scotland.
To save lives, particularly in the face of such an infectious new strain, the priority is to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible. With that in mind, and on review of the clinical trial data, the advice was given to prioritise first doses that provide a high level of protection, with evidence of a minimum 70 per cent effectiveness from 14 to 21 days after vaccination, and to deliver the second dose within 12 weeks from the first. Therefore, our planning has been realigned to do just that. The second dose remains important, as it lengthens the time for which immunity is present. Everyone will receive their second dose within 12 weeks of their first, and the second dose will be the same vaccine as the first.
As of today, we have a total Scottish vaccine allocation of 562,125 doses. Of that number, 365,000 doses have arrived in Scottish vaccination centres or are with health boards or general practitioners. A further 155,025 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 42,100 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are either in transit or in storage at Movianto UK for Scotland to access. This afternoon, I will publish our deployment plan, which sets out more detail. The plan will be updated as we go through the weeks ahead, and I will continue to update members on it. However, I will set out now some of the detail of the supply that we have to date and the plans that are under way for workforce and vaccine locations.
By the first week in February, all JCVI priority groups 1 and 2—residents in care homes for older adults, care home staff, front-line health and social care staff and those aged 80 and over who are living in the community—will have received their first vaccine dose. With the levels of vaccine stock that we currently have, and with the projected deliveries over the next few weeks, we will, beginning in February, vaccinate people aged 70 and over by mid-February and those aged over 65 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable by the beginning of March. In all, that will cover JCVI priority groups 1 to 5, which means that a total of just over 1.4 million eligible individuals will have been vaccinated with the first dose.
The second-dose vaccination will run in parallel, starting from the end of February. Our current modelling of required supply indicates that we will deliver around 400,000 vaccinations a week from the end of February. Over that period, we will use a range of different settings to deliver the vaccine, including care homes, for residents and staff; GP practices, health centres and local clinics, primarily for those aged 80 and over and for the clinically extremely vulnerable; and occupational health and vaccination centres for NHS and social care staff. For those who find it difficult to get to a local centre, we will take the vaccination to them in their home.
As we go through February and into March, more local vaccination sites will come on board, including community pharmacies, mobile vaccination clinics, small-scale mass vaccination centres and large vaccination centres that are capable of delivering in excess of 20,000 vaccinations a week in a single location. Some of those large sites have already been secured, such as the Aberdeen exhibition and conference centre, the Ravenscraig sports facility in Motherwell, Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh, and the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Right now, the NHS Louisa Jordan is, among its other work, acting as a vaccination centre, but rapid work is under way to secure more sites across the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. In the weeks ahead, I will provide members and the public with updates to the location map that appears in the deployment plan that I will publish today.
As larger numbers of people for whom local travel is easier become eligible, the centres are initially planning an 8 am to 8 pm opening, but we can extend those hours if that proves more convenient for people. We currently have a team of around 33 military personnel supporting our programme, and I am pleased that we have now finalised plans to increase that support to our larger centres in order to provide fast and assured site preparation and ensure that the facilities are in place for our mass vaccination centres.
Critical to all of that is the workforce—both vaccinators and support staff. The plan to vaccinate 400,000 people a week requires a daily workforce capacity of approximately 1,700 whole-time equivalent vaccinators and 950 WTE support staff. To achieve that level, we need a head count of 3,400 vaccinators, depending on the proportion of part-time and full-time staff. We currently have just under 5,500 individual vaccinators registered, not including all participating GPs. In addition to local health board training, over 4,000 people have taken part in national training to administer the Pfizer vaccine, and 4,700 have received training on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
We continue to build additional capacity, bringing on board more community healthcare practitioners including pharmacists, dentists and optometrists. We receive daily offers of help, which we can now route through our national facility to place people close to where they live and to secure the additional training that they need.
We are working with the voluntary and community sector to set up a centralised volunteer co-ordination hub for deployment at mass vaccination centres, making good use of the support that is offered locally. A number of local and national organisations and businesses have offered to be involved. Our national contact facility will receive those offers from now on and will ensure that each is considered carefully and used where possible. I am very grateful to the many individuals, business and organisations who have stepped forward so far in that way.
Perhaps the most important thing that people want to know is when it will be their turn to be vaccinated and how they will be informed. I have given an indication, in what I have set out so far, of when they will be vaccinated, supplies allowing, and that information is set out in slightly more detail in the deployment plan. If somebody is in one of the first two priority groups, their employer, health board or local GP will contact them. If they are in one of the other groups, they will be contacted by letter or phone. If people cannot make the date or time that they are given, they can rearrange the appointment by phone or online.
We have already delivered information to every household in Scotland, and, from 21 January, a national marketing campaign will kick off. In addition, we will put out local information through local press and radio. We will, of course, continue to use national print and broadcast media to inform the wider public.
Members and the public can monitor our progress daily and weekly. Every weekday, daily updates are published by the Scottish Government on its website, providing the latest cumulative data on the number of people who have received their vaccination. From today, weekly updates will be published by Public Health Scotland, providing a more detailed breakdown of vaccinations by priority groups and geography.
As we have done up to now, I will continue to keep members informed through regular letters and detailed information and by responding as quickly as I can to specific questions. I am grateful to members for their participation in the briefing that we held on 4 January, and I am happy to repeat that if it would be helpful.
I take the opportunity to recognise the many national health service staff, Scottish Government officials, armed forces personnel, local authority colleagues and third sector partners who have worked—and continue to work—so hard to get us to this stage. I also recognise the many people involved at every stage, from vaccine production to procurement to delivery, as well as all those who are coming forward to volunteer their help. The programme to vaccinate 4.45 million adults in Scotland is a national effort, and each one of those people is playing a vital part in that. They have my grateful thanks.
The vaccine offers us hope, and, as we vaccinate more and more of our fellow citizens, that hope becomes more real. However, on its own, it will not be enough to win the race against the virus. Each one of us needs to do all that we can—following the guidance, abiding closely to the restrictions, washing our hands, wearing face coverings and maintaining a 2m distance from one other—to slow down the spread of the virus and to suppress its prevalence as low as we can, so that increasing vaccination can do the job that we need it to do. Doing all of that will protect us, protect the NHS and save lives.
The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues raised in her statement. We will allow around 30 minutes for that. It would be helpful if members would press their request-to-speak buttons if they wish to ask a question. I ask members to bear in mind that many members wish to speak, so please be succinct.
I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement and offer my thanks to all those who are involved in this massive national programme.
It is welcome that more than 190,000 people have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and that some people are receiving their second dose. However, it is clear from the figures that not enough people are being vaccinated each day and that timetables are slipping. It is particularly worrying that, so far, we have vaccinated just half of our front-line NHS and social care workforce, who are so critical to Scotland overcoming the pandemic. With that in mind, and given the indication earlier in the week from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and the First Minister that all four priority groups would be vaccinated by mid-February, I ask why today’s statement leaves out clinically vulnerable people.
Secondly, a recent email to GPs in NHS Lothian indicated that there would be delays to the national booking system, which may in turn delay the launch of vaccination at large centres by two weeks. I ask the health secretary for an update on that booking system.
I do not believe that timetables are slipping. What I have set out in my statement concurs exactly with what we have said before. We started with the people who the JCVI’s advice said were most clinically vulnerable—that is, our elderly residents in care homes. Inevitably, vaccinating older people in that setting takes longer than it will take a mass vaccination centre to vaccinate 50 or 60-year-olds, or even people as old as me. We have done what the JCVI says. We are on track to complete vaccination of all those in priority groups 1 and 2—all NHS staff and front-line social care staff, as well as all people aged 80 and over who live in the community and care home residents and staff—by the end of this month. In my book, that is not a slipping timetable at all.
On the delay to the national booking system, I believe that the email that Donald Cameron referred to was issued by the local health and social care partnership and that it has now corrected it, because the information that it gave was entirely wrong. The national booking system is not delayed. It will be ready. It is being tested towards the end of this week and at the beginning of next to make sure that it is absolutely ready and capable of taking the volume of work that it needs to take. It will be ready from the end of January or beginning of February to do its job.
The system’s job will be the high-volume throughput of people in the younger age groups to make sure that we can get them booked into the site that is most convenient for them. For some, that will be their local vaccination clinic; for others, the mobile vaccination units will be most appropriate; and, for yet others, it will be either the mini vaccination sites or the mass vaccination sites. People will be able to change their booking if the time and date that is given to them is not convenient.
All of that is on track and by the end of February into early March we will have completed first-dose vaccination of JCVI priority groups 1 to 5 and will begin second-dose vaccination, which will run in parallel.
I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of the statement. On behalf of Scottish Labour, I put on record our thanks to everyone involved in the programme to get Scotland vaccinated.
How quickly can we move to a 24/7 roll-out, and how many additional vaccinator and support staff would be needed in order to implement that across Scotland? People are waiting patiently for the post to arrive, so when will people over 70 will start to be invited? How will disabled and older adults who live in their own home and who need the vaccine to be brought to them be identified? Will everyone who needs at-home vaccination be guaranteed that?
Finally, I make a point on behalf of Scotland’s home carers, who feel that they have been at the end of the queue for personal protective equipment, testing and now the vaccine. I have dozens of examples from Lanarkshire of home carers getting up as early as 4 am to go online to try to book appointments, only to find that the slots have gone very quickly. NHS staff have also been waiting patiently and going on to the website repeatedly throughout the day. What more can the cabinet secretary say to those workers, who are getting a bit frustrated about the booking system? What confidence can she give them that they will get their appointments very soon?
There are a number of questions in there—I will do my best.
The member asked how quickly we can go to 24 hours. We can do that once we have the mass vaccination sites open and running. Obviously, a 24-hour service is not possible in a GP practice or a community pharmacy. It is perhaps possible in local clinics, but it is certainly entirely possible at the mass vaccination sites. Many of those sites are secured already and I would anticipate that, as we move towards using them for the volume of people and the groups who we want to put through those sites and for whom that is convenient, that would be the end of February and early March. I can confirm the dates to Ms Lennon properly after this question session. If it is going to work for the volume of people, a 24-hour service is the right way to go. There is no will not to do that; the will is to do that if that is what it takes, because the objective is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
As for the numbers and the figure of 400,000 vaccinations a week, that takes me to the modelling and to the numbers that I set out in the statement. The rate will be up to that number, depending on the mix of part-time and full-time staff, but we should remember that people are continuing to come forward to register as vaccinators, and the numbers are growing. We currently have enough, even at 400,000 vaccinations a week, but more people are coming forward, so I am confident that we will be able to cope. I should also mention the armed services and the volunteer hub that we are setting up, as well as the support staff.
The over-70s should start to hear something towards the end of this month and through into February, remembering that we are aiming to offer them their first appointment for vaccination by the middle of February.
For those who are at home, the identification of people who are housebound or are unable easily to get to a local vaccination centre or to their primary care practice will be done primarily by those at the primary care practice, who will know their patients—the patients whom district or community nurses visit, for example—and they will undertake that vaccination. It should absolutely be guaranteed that, if people need to be vaccinated at home, they will be vaccinated at home.
On the point about home carers and NHS staff, it should be the employers who contact people to ensure that they are being given appointments. Often, those appointments are in occupational health settings or in the larger vaccination sites—which were among the first things that we set up—but I am happy to take that point away and consider whether there are particular issues around the overall number of people we still have to vaccinate that we need to resolve. Home carers are harder to reach, in that they do not have a single employer, but I will happily take that point away and get back to Ms Lennon on what more we think we can do.
There are quite a few open questions. We will get through them all if we can bear in mind how many there are.
In her long list of questions, Monica Lennon pre-empted one of mine, but I will still pursue the point.
Home vaccinations are of particular relevance in constituencies such as mine—in Midlothian and the Borders—where we have remote and isolated communities, with people living on farms and so on. I note what the cabinet secretary said about GPs and district nurses identifying people, but what if they have not been identified? At what point after they have received their appointment letter do they contact the practice or whatever? Some people may get missed out, and they will be most concerned.
Home vaccinations are there for people for whom it is very difficult to leave home, because of mobility or health issues or, in some instances, because they are elderly and frail. For constituencies such as Ms Grahame’s—and indeed for parts of my own constituency—mobile vaccination clinics will be part of the answer in taking vaccination closer to where people are.
As for people wondering what to do if they have not heard in time, there are two things that they can do. First, they can contact the central email address that is mentioned in the deployment plan or phone the national helpline. In addition, they can contact staff at their local general practice and ask when they should expect to hear from them. That is what is happening just now for those over 80 who are worrying about when they are going to hear something, and those other routes are there for other people, too.
Is there any flexibility in the way in which the vaccines are rolled out? I am thinking specifically about the difference between rural and urban areas. For example, somebody in their early 70s with a spouse in their late 60s would require to make two journeys. In a small rural community, could the bands of people being vaccinated perhaps be extended? That speaks to efficiency, and there is a certain logic to it.
The primary purpose—as Mr Whittle knows, but it is worth repeating—is to vaccinate as many people who are clinically at most risk of serious illness or death as possible; they are the first priority, which is why JCVI advice is to go through the age cohorts, from the elderly right down to people aged 50 and over. We need to hold as true to that as we can.
However, we have had initial discussions with boards such as NHS Highland, which made the point, quite rightly, that to send a team to a particular part of its area to do one cohort only to bring those people back and send them out again to do the next age group seems a bit of a waste of resource and time. In those instances, through discussions with us, board by board, we are likely to accord a degree of flexibility and say that if a team is going to village X it can do everyone over 60, for example, in one go, because that will be quicker. However, we need to get the balance right, because we must always be confident that we are prioritising the delivery of the first dose to the people who are clinically most at risk from the virus.
The JCVI list rightly sets out that front-line healthcare staff are a high priority for vaccination. What advice can the cabinet secretary offer to staff who support essential front-line NHS activity, for example through specialist work with vital equipment, but who are not themselves NHS staff? As a courtesy, I let the cabinet secretary know that I am writing to her on behalf of a constituent who falls into that category: they are a kidney dialysis technician who regularly works on Covid and intensive care wards in Scotland.
There is a thing called the green book, which sets out in much more detail what is meant by each priority group. The green book is used to train vaccinators and sets out who is covered by priority 1 or 2, for example. I will read a brief extract from it, because Mr MacGregor’s question is important. The green book refers to
“staff who have frequent face-to-face clinical contact with patients and who are directly involved in patient care in either secondary or primary care/community settings.”
It goes on to list a wide range of professions and activities, which includes associated support staff, independent contractors and people who work in public, private, third sector
“and non-standard healthcare settings such as hospices, and community-based mental health or addiction services.”
I will give Mr MacGregor that information in full and I will also include it in the letter that we issue to MSPs and MPs this afternoon, along with the deployment plan, so that people can see that the definition is wide. Indeed, the green book also says:
“Temporary staff, including those working in the COVID-19 vaccination programme, students, trainees and volunteers”—
agency and bank—
“who are working with patients must also be included.”
The vaccine roll-out is welcome, but, as experts tell us, it needs to sit alongside a robust test and trace system. Scotland is testing the least number of people per head of population of any of the four UK nations. Capacity is 65,000 but the average testing is about a third of that number and when we compare the first week of January with the first week of December, we find an increase in positive cases of 184 per cent but an increase of only 7 per cent in testing. Testing has not been ramped up.
In addition, contact tracing is still relying heavily on text messages. Does the cabinet secretary believe that that is good enough to help to contain the virus?
I will make a couple of points on that. If the overall thrust of Ms Baillie’s question is drawn from what the Rt Hon Gordon Brown said yesterday, I think that we dealt with that at the briefing; by and large, it is statistically not credible.
However, there are other points in what she said that I want to address. The numbers that she quoted referred to polymerase chain reaction tests and not tests that are conducted through lateral flow devices; we are working to make sure that those numbers come through, too. It is primarily lateral flow devices, backed by PCR testing, that are the central component of the increase in asymptomatic testing in care homes and communities. In the next couple of weeks, we will introduce a further expansion to our testing of asymptomatic people in the community, based on the clinical advice that I receive, to enable us to use that approach to track down further positive cases.
It is undoubtedly true that the numbers of PCR tests that Ms Baillie has quoted are not using the full capacity of either the Lighthouse lab in Glasgow, of which we have a population share, or the increased NHS PCR processing capacity. That is largely person driven: people who feel that they have symptoms book tests; they drive the use of those labs. However, the use of NHS labs will increase as we finish off moving all care home PCR weekly testing to those labs.
Part of what we will introduce will result from a review that we are doing now, of how much more we can proactively use PCR processing and tests—that is both PCR testing and asymptomatic testing—to help us chase down more of the virus in particular areas. That is, either whether the numbers are stubbornly high—as we were doing before Christmas—or where we believe that there is inevitable close contact, such as around particular employers where we want to be able to keep testing to help them to be sure that their workplaces are as safe as they can be.
I am concerned that we will not get through all the questions, so I ask the cabinet secretary to try to give shorter answers, please.
The JCVI’s advice on vaccination priorities says that the clinically extremely vulnerable group of younger adults will be vaccinated as part of group 4, at the same time as the over-70s. Last year, the green book’s section on Covid was updated to include a number of conditions affecting those in the clinically extremely vulnerable group who had not previously been on the shielded list—for example, adults with Down’s syndrome, for whom the mortality rate from Covid is six times higher than that for the general population. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that everyone who is listed in the green book as being clinically extremely vulnerable will be vaccinated in group 4, at the same time as the over-70s, as the JCVI has recommended? How confident is she that all such individuals have been identified?
Those are important questions. On whether I am confident that all such individuals have been identified, I point out that our chief nursing officer and chief medical officer are working right now to ensure that we can find a number of ways to do so and to cross-check our information to ensure that we will have found everyone who fits into that group. That should also enable individuals who feel that they have been missed out to have a really quick route towards having that situation resolved. We will make that system clear to members and to the wider public as soon as it has been completed, which I hope will be very soon.
We have made it clear that people who are on the list of those considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable will be vaccinated within the timeframe that Ms McAlpine mentioned. As I am sure that she will appreciate, some of those individuals will fall into more than one category, so the overall numbers that we are working with and that are shown in the deployment plan are estimated numbers.
Scotland’s stockpile of nearly 200,000 doses of vaccine is currently in storage at Movianto, which, for the benefit of members, is located in Bedford. GP surgeries across Scotland have been given small batches of vaccine to distribute, and they have been told that it will be several weeks before they will be given more. A dose of vaccine in a freezer 300 miles away is of no value to a vulnerable Scot who is awaiting immunity. Will the cabinet secretary say why the stockpile is not yet in circulation?
Movianto is the distributor of the vaccine. It brings it from Haydock, and then through various safety checks, to us in Scotland. From our vaccination centres, which were mentioned earlier, batches are then distributed round the various parts of the country, including to the islands. The vaccination doses are distributed on the basis of what each NHS board or GP practice orders and says that it will need for any given week. In the case of distribution of the Pfizer vaccine, there are particular challenges. We are not stockpiling vaccines or holding them back from vaccinators who are ready to go but cannot do anything because they do not yet have doses. To suggest or imply that is quite wrong.
The vaccination doses go out as quickly as we get them to all the places that are currently vaccinating, whether that is to teams of NHS staff in care homes and vaccination centres or, from last week—but ramping up this week and through January—through our GP practices and our local clinics, to get to that over-80 age group.
On 4 January, the First Minister said that the Government was considering how to prioritise the vaccination of school and childcare staff. Vaccinating those staff after front-line health personnel and high-risk populations could be an important part of any plan to safely and fully reopen schools; it would also be in line with World Health Organization advice. Can the cabinet secretary confirm—[Inaudible.]—and when she will announce plans?
Did you catch the end of that, cabinet secretary?
Mr Ruskell, would it be possible for you to succinctly repeat the question?
The whole question?
No, just the last bit.
I am looking for an update from the cabinet secretary about the plans that were committed to on 4 January to vaccinate teachers and childcare staff.
Thank you, Mr Ruskell.
The First Minister did not commit to plans to vaccinate teachers and childcare staff. What she said—I am paraphrasing here, so forgive me if I do not quote exactly what she said—was that she understood the concerns and that it was a matter that would continue to be considered.
The fact of the matter is that the JCVI advice is crystal clear in saying that the virus is most serious for those who are older—age is the highest risk factor. If we vaccinate JCVI priority groups as it has listed them, we will prevent well over 90 per cent of the associated mortality and morbidity in Scotland. If we take any quantum from that group for another group, we will be delaying the vaccination of a group of older adults whom we have been told to vaccinate because they are most at risk, because we will have put the vaccination doses somewhere else.
There will undoubtedly be a number of people in the teaching profession, working in schools and in nurseries, who will be covered by those JCVI priority groups. Therefore, they will be vaccinated in the timeframe that we have set out.
As the JCVI looks beyond its first set of priorities—that is, to those aged over 50 and upwards—to what we do thereafter, from the spring onwards, it is considering but has not yet determined whether there are any occupations or other characteristics, for example black, Asian and minority ethnic groups or other groups, that we should prioritise within the cohort of those aged 50 to 80. Once it has given us that advice, we will look at that.
We will continue to consider what more we can do to provide assurance to a number of individuals in particular professional and work circumstances, where they have concerns about their vulnerability in that regard.
With a view to providing reassurance to home care workers in my Cowdenbeath constituency, can the cabinet secretary confirm that those providing social care outwith a home care setting will indeed have priority access to the vaccine, and can the cabinet secretary indicate when all those home care workers across Fife and indeed across Scotland may expect to be vaccinated?
On the latter point, I have said that we will vaccinate those priority 1 and 2 groups with the first dose. We will have completed that by the end of January. That covers the individuals that Ms Ewing is thinking about. I am sure that the Fife NHS Board would be happy to provide Ms Ewing with the details of the particular arrangements and circumstances in Fife. I can certainly provide her with those details too, and I am happy to make sure that we send that information to her.
With regard to social care workers outwith a home care setting, I think that I know the kind of settings that Ms Ewing is referring to. Where they are client facing and provide direct and often very personal care, including personal assistance, to individuals, they are in that priority group, as I have described. If, as I suspect, the green book gives the same kind of definition as it does for NHS or front-line healthcare workers, I will make sure that Ms Ewing has sight of that, too.
Delivering the vaccine quickly and efficiently is of paramount importance, and companies across Glasgow—including Asda, BrewDog and Rangers Football Club—have offered to play a part in storing and distributing the vaccine. What action has the cabinet secretary taken to work with organisations across civic society that could play a vital part in assisting with that significant challenge?
Many organisations and individuals have offered support in various ways. We have set up a central contact email address—email@example.com—to channel all those offers. Whoever is making the offer has a conversation with us and, if we believe that it can be useful, we pass that on to a health board, elsewhere in our central team or, in some instances, to our colleagues in the armed forces or local authorities to pursue and take up. From now on, that is how we will take forward all those offers of support.
We are rapidly running out of time.
It is clear that the vaccine is the way out of the crisis and I support the ambition of 400,000 vaccines a week, but that requires a national effort and mobilisation. What plans does the Government have to engage not just NHS staff and the British Army, but a volunteer army? How do we use, for example, football stadiums, community centres and hubs as mass vaccination centres?
As I said in the statement, we are setting up a centralised volunteer co-ordination hub. With the help of local and national networks, we are working with a number of organisations to co-ordinate that volunteer workforce to do exactly what Mr Sarwar says. Again, those offers of assistance to host a mini or mass vaccination site are being processed but we are also actively looking for sites in addition to the mass sites that I set out in my statement.
It has been more than six weeks since I raised the case of Fred Banning with the First Minister, and I welcome the fact that she has now agreed to meet him. What progress has been made in developing a pathway for terminally ill patients, who are desperate to be vaccinated at the earliest opportunity?
Mr Briggs is correct; the First Minister will meet Mr Banning later this week. As I said I would, I wrote to the JCVI; my colleague Mr Hancock has done the same, as have colleagues in Wales and Northern Ireland. We have yet to hear back and we will get in touch with the JCVI later this week to see whether it is any closer to giving us advice. In the meantime, I have asked our chief medical officer and his team to consider their view on that matter, so that we can get a resolution to that as quickly as possible.
What steps are being taken to ensure that those with communication challenges and folk whose first language is not English do not face inequalities in vaccine access?
That is a really important point; I cannot get the phrase right, but Ms Maguire will know what I mean by the standard communication framework. All the necessary steps about how we communicate, in written terms and by other means, are being incorporated and, in central Government, colleagues are discussing with interpreters of British Sign Language and other languages how we might progress that. I have recently had a letter from a group of interpreters, who are offering their support to help us make sure that we communicate and make the programme as accessible as possible, not just physically, so that we do not miss people out because they cannot access a vaccination centre or understand what we are offering.
That concludes questions on the ministerial statement on the vaccination plans. I am sorry that I was unable to take questions from Rona Mackay and Sarah Boyack. We will shortly move on to the next item of business.