EVERY health board in Scotland will open walk-in vaccination centres from Monday amid concern the number of doses administered fell by almost 40% last month.
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the vaccination programme is not slowing down, despite claims from Labour’s health spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, that “it is beginning to stall”.
More than half of the Scottish population is now fully vaccinated – having received both doses of the jag.
But government data shows that the weekly number of doses administered fell by 130,000 from the beginning to the end of June. A total of 342,968 doses were administered in the week ending June 6, but this dropped by 38% by the week ending July 1, when only 212,140 jags were given.
The First Minister said the reduced number of doses administered is down to “the time interval there has to be between first doses and second doses”, which she said “limits the amount of people” that can often be vaccinated in any given day.
She added: “The vaccination programme is not slowing down. The speed of it is dependent on these factors.
“Taken all of that into account, it is going incredibly well.”
Ms Sturgeon stressed the walk-in centre rollout was not connected with the progress of the vaccine rollout and instead is “just about accessibility”.
Everyone aged 18 and over will be able to attend one of the walk-in centres for their first jab or – if eight weeks have passed – their second dose without needing an appointment.
Vaccination buses, run by the Scottish Ambulance Service, will also be in operation around Edinburgh and Glasgow over the next two weeks, including Edinburgh’s Fort Kinnaird shopping centre on July 5 and 6 and the Grassmarket on July 7 and 8.
Another mobile vaccination unit will be outside Mecca Bingo in Glasgow Forge on July 5, at Dumbarton Football Club on July 6, the Govan Housing Association on July 7, at Partick Thistle Football Club on July 8 and in the car park of St Roch’s secondary school in Royston on July 9.
Despite Scotland recording record high numbers of daily positive cases, Ms Sturgeon remains confident that the indicative dates for the country moving to level 0 on July 19 and ‘beyond level 0’ on August 9, dubbed ‘freedom day’ are still on track.
Speaking at her coronavirus briefing on Friday, Ms Sturgeon highlighted the dates for lifting restrictions are dependent on the continued success of the vaccination rollout and “not tied to particular rates of infection”.
She added: “Vaccination is the reason this surge in cases hasn’t led to the re-imposition of a strict lockdown. I think it would have done that at any earlier stage in this pandemic.
“Now, the vaccines are doing much of the work that lockdown measures previously had to do.”
New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that Scotland has the highest rate of infection in any part of the UK and in Europe with around one in 150 people estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to June 26.
The First Minister said that in the first two waves of the pandemic, Scotland was “behind and below the UK curve” and “on the same broad pattern”.
She added: “In this wave again, I think all parts of the UK are following the same pattern, but we are a bit above and ahead of the UK curve.”
Ms Sturgeon said “we don’t know definitively” why Scotland has raced ahead of the rest of the UK – but pointed to the fact the Delta variant “seeded into our biggest city” and that “we still have lower population immunity because, to be blunt, fewer of us had the virus in earlier phases than was the case in England”.
Scotland’s high number of cases has forced Test and Protect to scale-back some procedures and checks.
Follow-up checks on overseas arrivals no longer take place by phone and have been replaced by text messages while all secondary contact tracing has been ended.
The First Minister said that Test and Protect “is coping well”, despite the surge in cases to be dealt with – and stressed the roll-back of some checks “is about using Test and Protect resources as effectively and efficiently as possible”.
But Ms Baillie has claimed the First Minister has not “provided sufficient reassurance about the operation of Test and Protect”, given the spread of infection in Scotland.
She added: “We know if we’re going to live with Covid and come out of these restrictions then Test and Protect needs to work better, but what the Scottish Government and the First Minister have done is actually drop standards.
“They are reducing standards as a way of coping with the recent rise in pressure – but that is robbing Peter to pay Paul. There is a backlog of thousands of cases and reducing the number of people contacted will lead to the increased spread of the virus.
“Suspending testing for travellers risks importing new strains of the virus from abroad, particularly as international travel ramps up again.
“The Government must give test and protect the resources it needs to deliver its vital role and help keep us all safe.”
Conservative health spokesperson, Annie Wells, has urged ministers to “focus all of their resources” on the vaccine programme and Test and Protect.
She added: “We welcome the SNP Government’s decision to finally set up drop-in clinics in each health board on Monday and strongly advise people to get their first or second dose at these clinics if it is faster than waiting for their appointment.
“Vaccinations and an effective Track and Trace programme are both vital to our way out of restrictions and resuming normality.”