The deployment of tens of thousands of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccinations in Wales is being staggered to avoid staff sitting around with nothing to do once they get through their current supplies, the first minister, Mark Drakeford, has said.
Some vaccinations in Wales may also be delayed because a batch of 26,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines earmarked for the country have failed the testing process.
Welsh ministers insist the country remains on course to vaccinate the top four priority groups by the middle of February, but on Monday opposition politicians questioned the policy of staggering a major part of the vaccination programme and claimed Wales was falling behind the rest of the UK.
Wales has a supply of about 300,000 Covid vaccinations, around 250,000 of them the Pfizer version and 50,000 the Oxford jab.
Drakeford said the Oxford vaccine was being used as soon as it arrived in the country from centralised UK supplies. But he said Wales was not due to get any more Pfizer vaccines until the end of this month or the start of next, and so was staggering its rollout.
He said: “We have to use that over that six-week stretch. There would be no point, I think, and it would be logistically very damaging to try to use all of that in the first week and then have all of our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do for another month.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Drakeford argued: “The sensible thing to do is use the vaccine you have got over the period that you have got it for so your system can absorb it. You don’t have people standing about with nothing to do.”
As of last week, 3,215 people per 100,000 had received a first dose of vaccine in Wales, compared with 3,514 in Scotland, 4,005 in England and 4,828 in Northern Ireland. Drakeford said the differences between the four nations were “marginal”.
The supply in Wales suffered a blow after a batch of 26,000 Oxford vaccines failed testing. Wales is due to receive those vaccines next week, and Drakeford said it would all be used then.
The Welsh Conservatives said Drakeford’s remarks showed the system was “not fit for purpose”.
Andrew RT Davies, the shadow minister for health, said: “The Welsh Labour government is failing to deliver its vaccine programme. His [Drakeford’s] shocking … decision to delay deployment of Pfizer vaccine supplies is dangerous and makes no clinical sense whatsoever. We need to get these vaccinations into people’s arms ASAP. Lives and livelihoods across Wales are at stake.”
Michael Jenkins, whose 90-year-old father, Harry, has not received a date for his first jab, called on the government to speed up the pace of the programme. He said his father, a retired surveyor from Swansea, had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and prostate cancer but was still waiting for his appointment.
“People like my father are being put at risk unnecessarily,” he said. “He and pensioners like him need the jab as soon as then can. I think the Welsh government is dragging its heels. I’m not criticising our doctors and nurses. They’re doing a fantastic job. But there is a blockage in the system that needs to be sorted out.”