Welsh government insists ‘no Pfizer vaccines being held back’ after Drakeford claim

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Vincent Wood
·5 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford speaks during a press conference in October (Getty Images)
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford speaks during a press conference in October (Getty Images)

The Welsh government was forced to walk back comments from its first minister, Mark Drakeford, after he claimed a gradual rollout of its allocation of Pfizer jabs was necessary to ensure vaccinators were not “standing around with nothing to do for another month”.

Wales has been the slowest of the four nations when it comes to coronavirus vaccine rollouts – delivering jabs to 3,215 people per 100,00 compared to 3,514 in Scotland, 4,005 in England and 4,828 in Northern Ireland.

Dismissing the difference as “very marginal”, Mr Drakeford said the nation was on track to hit its target of immunising its four priority groups – care home residents and staff, frontline health and social care staff, those over 70, and the clinically extremely vulnerable – by mid-February.

However, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added the Pfizer jab could not be used up all at once, saying it would be “damaging” to roll out the vaccine too rapidly and leave those administering it with nothing to do.

Asked why the Welsh government had only used half the doses it had been given, he said the stock had to last “until the beginning of February”.

“There will be no point, I think, and certainly it will be logistically very damaging, to try to use all of that in the first week and then to have all our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do for another month.

“The sensible thing to do is to use the vaccine you’ve got over the period that you’ve got it for so that your system can absorb it, they can go on working, that you don’t have people standing around with nothing to do.

“We will vaccinate all four priority groups by the middle of February, alongside everywhere else in the UK.”

The statement prompted criticism from medical bodies and opposition politicians alike, with the British Medical Association tweeted it was “extremely concerned the Welsh government is spacing out the Pfizer vaccine to make it last until the next delivery”.

They added: “If Pfizer vaccines are available, second doses must be given within the maximum 42-day timeline and all remaining vaccinations for staff must be accelerated.”

Meanwhile, the Welsh Conservatives’ leader in the Senedd, Paul Davies, said he was “flabbergasted” by the comments from the first minister.

“You’d have thought from a government’s perspective they would’ve wanted to distribute the vaccines as soon as possible,” he told the PA news agency.

“This is a matter of life and death, and that’s why it’s so crucial now that they get these vaccines out to people as soon as possible.

“To suggest that vaccines should be rolled out over a period of time so that vaccinators are not standing around with nothing to do is absolutely preposterous.

“If we don’t get the vaccines out as soon as possible, and into people’s arms as soon as possible, then unfortunately more people are going to die.”

However, a Welsh government spokesperson said the authority was “not holding back any Pfizer vaccine” – adding that the country had limited means of storing the jab, which must be kept at -70C up to the point of use.

“There are two special centres where the vaccine is stored at this temperature in Wales,” they added. “Once removed from cold storage it must be used within five days.”

“Every dose wasted is a vaccine which cannot be given to someone in Wales. We are proud that less than 1 per cent of the vaccines have not been used, way below the wastage rates that might be expected with this vaccine given its shelf life, storage and distribution challenges.”

Speaking in a Welsh government press conference, the education minister, Kirsty Williams, added the devolved administration was “as keen as anybody to get those vaccinations out”.

“Clearly we need to go even faster but we need to do that in a way that maximises that precious resource and doesn’t lead to the wastage of any vaccines.

“We expect to see increasing supplies of Oxford/AstraZeneca coming to Wales this week and next week. Of the supplies of Oxford/AstraZeneca we already have, some 95 per cent of that stock has already been used.”

Meanwhile, the UK government said it was prepared to offer assistance for Wales to scale up its vaccine deployment.

Boris Johnson’s press secretary said she was sure all devolved leaders wanted to “see jabs in everybody’s arms as quickly as is sensibly possible”.

Allegra Stratton told reporters: “The distribution of the vaccine in Wales is a matter for the devolved Welsh administration but the UK government has procured vaccine on behalf of the entirety of the United Kingdom.

“There has been, over the course of the pandemic, testing facilities provided and set-up around the country and we have been providing significant armed forces assistance to Wales.

“But if they were to need any more support, then the UK government stands ready to help all parts of the UK.”

She added: “The prime minister has always been clear that the British people want to see jabs in everybody’s arms as quickly as is sensibly possible.

“That’s his philosophy and he would imagine that is the philosophy of all the leaders of the devolved administrations.”

Additional reporting by agencies

Read More

Johnson asked to apologise for ‘misrepresentation’ over Wales funding

Hundreds drive to Brecon Beacons in defiance of Wales restrictions

11,000 positive Covid tests missing from Welsh data

Over 600 cases of new Covid strain in Wales ‘underestimate’