THE FIRST COVID-19 vaccine has been given the go-ahead and the roll-out across Wales will start within a matter of days, the Chief Medical Officer announced on Tuesday, December 2.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has now authorised the first vaccine as safe and effective on the basis of detailed independent expert review of evidence from large scale clinical trials.
The Pfizer Biontech vaccine has become the first to receive MHRA clearance in the UK and 40 million doses of the vaccine will shortly be available for delivery across the UK, with Wales getting its allocation based on population.
The effects of the vaccine may not be seen nationally for many months and the advice on keeping Wales safe remains the same for everyone; keep contacts with other people to a minimum, keep a 2 metre distance from others, wash hands regularly, wear a face covering where required and avoid touching surfaces others have touched, wherever possible.
Approval from the MHRA is the first step of Wales’ roll-out plan, which has seen preparations on-going since May. There are still a number of stages which need to happen before the vaccine reaches those in highest need and is ready for use, but this process is expected to happen over the next week.
These stages include:
- The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) finalising and publishing their guidance for the whole of the UK
- Finalising training materials for staff and patient information leaflets
- Training of experienced immunisers for this particular vaccine
- Final legal frameworks to allow registered health professionals to administer the vaccine to patients need to be authorised by each Health Board in Wales.
- The vaccine – which needs to be administered in 2 doses – will initially be prioritised and available for those aged 80 and over, care home staff and residents and those working within health and social care.
Pfizer Biontech vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-low temperatures. These centres have already been decided by Health Boards and are in the process of being stood-up.
As further supplies become available and additional vaccines receive MHRA approval, a staged approach will see other groups be offered the vaccine, based on risk of serious complications and deaths.
Individuals in the priority groups for a COVID-19 vaccine will receive an invitation from their employer or health board providing information about the COVID-19 vaccines, telling them where to go and what to do on the day of their appointment.
People are urged to wait to be invited, which will happen through NHS systems. Please do not ask your pharmacist or GP.
There are plans in place for people who are housebound and for care homes to be vaccinated as soon as safely possible, with the approved vaccine being safely taken to them using a mobile service, once cleared for this purpose.
The development process for coronavirus vaccines has been as stringent as any other but the process in the face of the pandemic has been sped up by prompt, world-wide funding and a reduction in paperwork. The length of the trials have not been shortened, and the usual safety measures remain in place.
The vaccine will not be mandatory and people will be able to choose whether they take up the vaccine or not. Information will be provided to people before vaccination to reassure them about patient safety and robust consent processes will be in place.
The Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, said: “It is fantastic to finally say that the first COVID-19 vaccine has been given the green light. We know now that we have a safe and effective vaccine for use across the UK – this is the positive news I and so many across the country have been waiting for.
“All our NHS organisations across Wales have embraced the challenge presented to them and are at the advanced stages of planning for the arrival of a vaccine. We have tested distribution and storage arrangements to ensure we can get vaccine safely to every part of Wales.
“There’s still a few stages we need to work through but once all these safeguards are in place, vaccination can begin. There will only be relatively small amounts of the vaccine at first, those who have been advised as most needing the vaccine first, through approved delivery mechanisms. A full announcement around the timetable for roll-out in Wales will follow in the next few days.”
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “Today’s news is a small glimmer of light at the end of what has been a long and dark tunnel.
“We know some people within our communities are much more at risk than others from the serious complications of COVID-19, which is why the new vaccine is being prioritised to protect them first.
“Whilst these first doses are given at fixed sites and occupational settings, and to protect our NHS and social care services, we must all continue to do our bit to prevent the spread of coronavirus: regular hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a face covering where required to protect yourself and others.”
Andrew RT Davies MS – the Shadow Minister for Health said: “This is positive news in the battle against Covid but, as ever, the devil is in the detail of delivery.
“And so, today the Health Minister must today address a number of vital issues including:
- The ability of NHS Wales to start the vaccination process and when this will happen
- How many doses will be available to Wales in the first tranche and how they will be distributed
- Who the first recipients will be
- How, when other vaccines become available, NHS Wales will cope with the different procedures
“It will also require a strong public health campaign around take up of the vaccine.
“The people of Wales need this information to give them some confidence in how the programme will be handled here.”
Mr Davies’ remarks allude to one substantial issue regarding the vaccine’s distribution.
Both Wales and Scotland have a higher proportion of their respective populations in vulnerable groups. However, thus far, the UK Government has targeted Covid support on a per-head basis and not by need.
Vice-chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Programme Board, Richard Roberts from Public Health Wales, said: “It is a significant achievement that only 9 months after WHO announced the global pandemic that we now have the first safe and effective vaccine available for use in Wales, and other vaccines to follow.
“Everyone has been preparing for months to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine programme, and it is very exciting that we will be able to begin, once the final steps have been put in place so that the programme can be delivered safely.”
Coronavirus self-isolation and quarantine reduced to 10 days
THE time people have to self-isolate for coronavirus will be reduced from 14 days to 10.
Welsh Government have reduced the isolation period to 10 days from Thursday, 10 December. The decision is endorsed by The Chief Medical Officer for Wales Officer, Dr Frank Atherton and is based on the current available evidence around likelihood of being infectious as a contact after 10 days.
The new self-isolation and quarantine rules will apply to:
- people who have received a positive test result for COVID-19
- people with symptoms of COVID-19 who are waiting for a test result, or who have not been tested and do not require hospital treatment, who must remain at home for the appropriate self-isolation period
- people living in households with someone who shows symptoms that may be caused by COVID-19 or who has received a positive test result for COVID-19
- close contacts of positive cases of COVID-19
- travellers returning from non-exempt country
Following this advice the Minister for Health and Social Services has approved the amendment to the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 4) (Wales) Regulations 2020.
An updated list of exempt countries and territories can be seen on the Welsh Government website: https://gov.wales/exemptions-self-isolation-coronavirus-covid-19-html#section-48360
Self-isolation and quarantine play a key role in stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Remember, self-isolate as soon as you have any symptoms. Symptoms of coronavirus include a high temperature, a new continuous cough and a loss or change to sense of smell or taste. But be aware of other symptoms early on, such as headaches, tiredness and general aches and pains usually associated with flu. We are urging people who feel unwell to be extra cautious, especially to practice hand hygiene and distancing, and if in doubt, book a test.
You can apply for a test online https://gov.wales/apply-coronavirus-covid-19-test or by phoning 119.
Further information around the Coronavirus in Ceredigion can be seen on the Council’s website: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/coronavirus.
Thank you for following the rules and playing your role. Together, we can keep Ceredigion safe.
Health Board appeals for public support to alleviate pressure on hospitals
HYWEL DDA UNIVERSITY Health Board is appealing for public support as its hospitals are operating under extreme pressure. Whilst high levels of activity are usual in the winter, this year presents the extra challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a shortage of clinical staff.
The health board has responded to outbreaks of the virus in all of its acute general hospitals, resulting in closures of some wards in all acute hospitals in the Hywel Dda area during the past month.
Meanwhile, the health board has announced the transfer of all patients being treated at Llandovery Community Hospital, to Amman Valley Hospital, in Glanamman, near Ammanford, due to a number of staff, including nurses, at the two hospitals self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19. This led to significant constraints on the workforce at both sites, which meant sustaining both community nursing and community hospital services became too challenging.
Community transmission of the virus is also very high across all three counties. In the last seven days, the case incidence rate in Carmarthenshire was 305.7 per 100,000 population, with a rate of 165.1 per 100,000 in Ceredigion and 170.1 per 100,000 in Pembrokeshire.
Because of these challenges, the health board is in a very difficult position as it cannot safely staff all of beds it would otherwise expect to have open at this point in the year. Additionally, it has had to transfer some staff and patients to field hospitals in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.
The health board is therefore in need the public’s help to ease pressure on the system.
- For urgent and emergency care only, call 999 – hospitals are continuing to see patients who have medical emergencies, as well as those on cancer pathways who have been asked to attend. There are measures in our hospitals designed to keep patients as safe as possible and people are urged to seek urgent medical attention if they need it.
- If you have a non-urgent need, please seek alternatives to A&E such as calling 111, visiting your local community pharmacy or calling your doctor’s surgery.
- Families with relatives in hospital who have tested negative for COVID-19 and are medically fit for discharge can play a crucial role in helping us by supporting discharge from hospital to home – please call the ward sister to discuss individual needs.
- Protect the NHS – and help save lives. Following the government guidance and Keep Wales Safe by staying out of each other’s homes, except in very limited circumstances; limiting how many people you meet; maintaining social distancing; washing your hands regularly, and working from home if you can. Also, if you have symptoms, please stay at home, book a test and only leave home to get your test. For more information please visit Coronavirus (COVID-19) | Topic | GOV.WALES
Andrew Carruthers, Director of Operations at Hywel Dda University Health Board, said: “A number of vaccines are being developed and yesterday’s news about the approval of one of these is a hugely welcome and positive development. But, it is critical for the public to understand that we are still at a very dangerous point in the cycle of the pandemic and there is still some way to go before we can return to normality.
“We are dealing with significantly more cases of COVID-19 in our hospitals than we previously had in the spring. Unfortunately, this has also affected our workforce and severely hampered our capacity and escalation plans.
“While we are confident that the number of declared hospital outbreaks is now going down, and that we are able to deep clean and re-open wards safely again, the single biggest issue we face remains staff sickness. This is having a critical effect on our ability to provide care for all but those with emergency / urgent medical conditions, or those who are accessing cancer services. We need to ensure that the services we provide are safe and prioritised in terms of clinical need, so that staff are operating safely.
“I want to be very clear that we will get through this, but we need the public’s help now to stop onward transmission of the virus in our communities and give our workforce a chance to recover, so that they are able to provide safe and effective care for our patients.”
Vaccine plan unveiled for Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire
HYWEL DDA University Health Board is making final preparations to deliver its mass vaccination programme following Wednesday’s announcement that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been granted temporary authorisation for use.
There will only be small quantities of a vaccine at first due to the storage requirements of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
A Hywel Dda spokesperson said: “Priority groups for the initial supplies of this vaccine include front line health and social care staff with direct patient and client contact across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. We are continually reviewing our plans based on receipt of further supplies.
“We are ready to deploy the vaccine in phases when the vaccine arrives. Eligible front line health and social care staff will receive details of how they will receive the vaccination as soon as possible.
“Members of the public are asked to not contact their GP practice or community pharmacies to enquire about the vaccine at this time.”
Ros Jervis, director of public health for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “Vaccination saves lives and Wednesday’s announcement is a truly significant moment.
“I’d like to personally thank everyone from organisations from across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire who, for the past few months, have worked tirelessly together to ensure we are ready to deliver this vaccine to protect our frontline staff and the clinically vulnerable in our community.
“Please do not contact your GP or pharmacist to apply for or ask for the vaccination. As soon as the vaccine is available for your eligible group, you will be informed and asked to make an appointment.”
In readiness, Hywel Dda UHB has established two vaccination centres for delivery of early supplies, one in Carmarthenshire and one in Ceredigion. Attendance at these centres is strictly prohibited without an appointment.
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