Analysis: How does Scotland’s vaccine rollout compare to England as phase one draws to an end?

Scotland has almost completed phase one of its Covid-19 vaccine rollout – the first nine JCVI priority groups, which include everyone over 50 and those with underlying health conditions.
How is Scotland's vaccine rollout going?How is Scotland's vaccine rollout going?
How is Scotland's vaccine rollout going?

The Scottish Government has said the next cohort – over 40s – will begin to receive invitations in the next few days, slightly behind those in England, where an appointment booking service has already opened to over 45s.

But as the vaccination programme approaches the most important milestone in its four-month history, it is no longer fair to say the rollout of first doses in Scotland lags behind.

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During the early months the Scottish Government was plagued by its comparative sluggishness compared to vaccine progress south of the border.

The gap began quite small – on the first day regular data was published in January, Scotland barely trailed behind, having given a first dose to just under four per cent of its adult population, while England had covered just over four per cent.

But the difference began to grow, until NHS England managed to vaccinate 20 per cent of its adult population in early February while Scotland was still on 15 per cent.

Nicola Sturgeon was lambasted by opposition politicians, and members of the public clamoured to know when they would be getting their jag, and why their friends and relatives south of the border had already been given it.

The Scottish Government initially blamed a difference of approach – Scotland had begun vaccination in care homes, which are particularly time-consuming, while the UK Government had chosen to begin with over 80s in the community in England.

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Later, supply became the dominant issue, with the Scottish Government saying vaccination was hamstrung by lack of doses.

BMA Scotland called for GPs to be allowed to draw doses without going through their local health board, as was the arrangement in England.

A row escalated about secrecy over future projections of that supply, which culminated in the Scottish Government publishing details in February only to delete them within hours over pressure from the UK Government.

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Scotland caught up with the rest of the UK around mid February, when the vaccination programme peaked, with the target of 400,000 doses in a week almost, almost hit.

But then supply problems began again, with a reduction in expected doses from Pfizer, and they haven’t really stopped since then – the 400,000 target never was reached.

Scotland began to lag again, and in late March the milestone of half of all adults offered a first dose was hit several days after it was reached in England.

New issues began to develop – most notably around delays to the delivery of letters inviting people for appointments.

But the gap has begun to reduce, and this week, for the first time since February, the coverage of vaccines in Scotland is more or less equal to that in England, with 61 per cent of adults offered a dose in Scotland, and 62 per cent in England.

In Northern Ireland, 59 per cent of adults have been given a first dose, and 62 per cent in Wales.

The Scottish Government expects vaccine supply to pick up from the end of April, with phase two of the vaccination programme to be finished by July – with any luck, it will only gain momentum.

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